Date of Construction: 1879; 1912; 1929-1936.
Although rebuilt in the nineteenth century, the history of the De Pere Lock and Dam system dates to 1837. The first dam, located just south of its current location, was built by the Fox River Hydraulic Company; it also included a small lock. The lock and dam facility were rebuilt in the 1850s and then lengthened four more times at its current location, resulting in the 146’ long and x 36’ wide, 1930s-era lock you see today.
So, what is a lock and dam system and why does De Pere have one?
The De Pere lock is one of seventeen locks located along the Fox River, known as the Fox Locks. Locks were built to assist in the navigation of water vessels, which historically transported saleable goods from one location to another. Today, goods are mainly transported throughout the United States via trucks, while some is moved via air. A lock and dam system enables ships and boats to bypass the dams and to move from a body of water at one level to another at a different level–essentially acting as an elevator. The vessel enters the lock chamber and the water in the chamber is then raised or lowered to facilitate passage. The total vertical drop throughout the Fox lock system, which runs from Menasha to De Pere, is 168 feet.
The small front-gabled blue building was built in 1879 and served as the original lockkeeper’s house, the person in charge of the daily activities at the lock. The lockkeeper was historically assisted by lock tenders. In 1912, a new lockkeeper’s house–the green shingle and red brick, Dutch Colonial Revival-style house–was built on Government Island. Today the island is connected to the mainland via a pedestrian scissor bridge. This bridge is an excellent spot to view the lock being opened and closed – which is done manually by a lock tender—not by a computer or other electronic means. The blue building continues to be used by the lock tender, while the 1912 house is privately owned. Unfortunately, neither are open to the public.
The Fox Locks are owned by the State of Wisconsin and managed/operated by the Fox River Navigational System Authority. They are the only fully restored, hand-operated lock system in the United States. The locks operate seasonally, from May to September.
The power from the original dam supported grain, mills, and wood factories along the river. The dam that you see today provides hydraulic power for the local paper company on the west side of the Fox River.
The landscaping on the island is maintained by a local volunteer group of the City’s Definitely De Pere Main Street Program called the “Beautification Committee.” Many of the plants and flowers that you see are Wisconsin native species.
De Pere, Wisconsin 54115
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