Machine Garden: Locks and Dams

Machine Garden Assignment: Locks and Dams

Taylor Shanley

My Sister’s Piano

February 18, 2014

Dams have become an efficient way to control waterways and their water levels across the United States. Though they appear to represent a simple idea that even the earliest civilizations could figure out, locks and dams became more complicated in later periods. Dams are made of strong stone or concrete and designed in multiple different ways to guide and hold back water in rivers. A lock is an invention that allows boats to move upstream or downstream (Watson). There are two moveable barriers that isolate the boat moving upstream or downstream in a bay of water and water is taken or released to put the boat at its designated water level (Watson). Beginning in ancient periods, stretching through a major reconstruction and expansion into the American West, and still impacting America today, the purpose of locks and dams has advanced steadily and has led to further utilization of the American landscape.

Dams were first utilized by ancient peoples who established the foundational purposes of the technology. The ancient Egyptians, between the time period of 2950-2750 B.C., appeared to be the first to construct a solid dam wall (Heloisa, Haynes, Winzenread, Okada, 1999). The primary dams created were gravity dams, solid dam walls made up of masonry or stone that held back water through their weight (Heloisa, Haynes, Winzenread, Okada, 1999). The first dam constructed by these Egyptians, Sadd el-Kafara, eventually eroded away due to poor construction and overflow of water (Heloisa, Haynes, Winzenread, Okada, 1999). Peoples like the Romans, Mesopotamians, and Spaniards developed their own dams and most of these dams eroded away like those of the Egyptians (Heloisa, Haynes, Winzenread, Okada, 1999). All of these civilizations had a common purpose at this point: to hold back water. It appeared to be common sense to them that a large, stone wall could hold back water

that may have been disrupting another process they were pursuing to shape their landscapes. Though an initial purpose was developed, these weak gravity dams did not seem to permanently affect the American landscape due to nature taking over and ripping down these walls. A recorded use of dams for something other than holding back water was not until the Spaniards developed the buttress dam and took the idea to the Americas for irrigation purposes (Heloisa, Haynes, Winzenread, Okada, 1999). A buttress dam uses a number of arches or slabs to protect a dam’s face and hold back water (Heloisa,

Pictured is a buttress dam, Lake Tahoe Dam.

Haynes, Winzenread, Okada, 1999). The Spaniards seemed to expand on the initial usage of dams by incorporating irrigational purposes to them. By doing this, the Spaniards introduced an idea of shaping the American landscape to guide water where it was needed. This is a usage that helped Americans utilize the West toward the mid-19th century and shows an advancement in the utilization of dams for something other than holding back water.

The use of locks and dams in the American West helped Americans utilize their landscape to a fuller potential and develop a more technical and advanced purpose for the technologies. As explorers began to travel to the unknown West during the mid 19th century, they realized that it was made up of an arid environment (Grace, 2012, 3). Edwin James, the geographer of a western expedition in 1820 described the land of the West as, “almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence” (Grace, 2012, 3). This posed a threat to those who wished to search the area for gold and live in a new land (Grace, 2012, 7). The Mormons can be credited with the development of American irrigation systems in the West using dams (Grace, 2012, 9). Led by Brigham Young, the Mormons travelled to the Salt Lake Valley and developed their own irrigation system to settle the supposed uninhabitable area using observed techniques from the Spaniards in the West (Grace, 2012, 9).


Pictured is a series of ditches used in the dam irrigation systems in some of Brigham Young’s houses in Salt Lake City.


They piled up dirt and stone to create a dam wall, dug ditches to hold water, and created a simple irrigation system to make cultivation possible (Grace, 2012, 9). As the United States government became involved in the production of dams, they primarily based their methods on those established by the Mormons (Grace, 2012, 10). This was the beginning of the dam being utilized in order to change the American landscape drastically. Irrigation dams drastically shaped this arid climate into the habitable area the West remains today. By utilizing dams for irrigation, the West was opened up to settlement and many wondered what else the dam could do. This led to the innovation of the lock and dam system that took over many rivers and systems in the early 20th century.

Locks and dams proved as a major dam advancement in the early 20th century, especially through the Mississippi River and by providing the ability to utilize transportation and hydroelectric power (Macalester College). Lock and Dam #1 was constructed in 1917 across the Mississippi River and provides transportation from St. Paul to Minneapolis (National Park Service).

Pictured is a present-day image of Lock and Dam #1.

The system also provides hydroelectric power that has been utilized to fuel a plant in Twin City (Macalester College). President Henry Ford also developed a plan that utilized the transportation possibility of the river using the lock and dam system as well as the economical benefits it could bring to the area (Macalester College). The invention of the lock transformed river transportation and the ability to easily move ships up and down the river. In cooperation with the dam, it produced an efficient transportation system in the American landscape that allowed more trade over water and provided a cheaper alternative to coal energy by utilizing hydroelectric energy (Macalester College). Lock and Dam #1 has also had an impact on the actual physical American landscape (Macalester College). Because of higher water levels created by the system, a pool has developed stretching from Twin Cities to North Minneapolis. This is mainly a concern for those living around the pool (Macalester College). Because of rising waters and sand build-up, the rapids have also been depleted throughout the river and may pose a threat the the surrounding ecosystems they affected (Macalester College). There is a possible plan of closing the Lock and Dam #1 and attempting to restore the rapids (Macalester College). By developing an efficient path for transportation and way to produce hydroelectric power, dams were further utilized and advanced to shape and influence the future of dams being used in America.

Ohio utilizes locks and dams. There are a series of locks and dams, including the Captain Anthony Meldahl Locks and Dam, connecting areas such as Kentucky to Ohio over the Ohio River (Bell, 2009). Local examples of dams without locks include the Hoover Dam constructed as a water facility in Westerville, OH and the Alum Creek Dam constructed to control flooding (Ohio DNR).



Pictured is the Hoover Dam in Westerville, OH.

Though smaller and local, these dams have had important parts in shaping our local landscape and preventing certain natural disasters or inconveniences to our neighborhoods and towns. The commonality of dams in Ohio shows the impact of technological advancement of dams over time and that instead of a benefit, they are almost a necessity in some areas to utilize the landscape.

Dams have had a lasting impact on the people of past centuries as they have developed from their initial purpose. With the addition of locks in the United States, more usages have been developed using these two technologies. These major innovations have even encouraged the production of local, smaller-scaled technologies. Both the smaller and larger-scaled versions of locks and dams will continue to advance and impact American society and the American landscape itself.

Sources Cited

An Irrigation Ditch. Photograph. Accessed February 19, 2014. 
     Used to display an irrigation ditch used in in the dam system of the Mormons.


Bell, Trudy. "Captain Anthony Meldahl Locks and Dam." Last modified April 2009.
     Accessed February 18, 2014. 
     Information about the location of the Captain Anthony Meldahl Locks and Dam.

Grace, Stephen. "Into the Parched Frontier." In Dam Nation, 3-10. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2012.  
    Information about expansion into the West and the first dams built during the period. 
Macalester College. "Lock and Dam #1: A Give and Take Relationship with the Mississippi River." 
     Macalester College. Accessed February 18, 2014. 
     Information about Lock and Dam #1 and its impact on the Mississippi River and surrounding 

Mulad. Lock and Dam No. 1. Photograph. Wikipedia. June 7, 2005. Accessed February 19, 2014. 
     Used to show a present-day picture of Lock and Dam #1. 

National Park Service. "Lock and Dam No. 1." National Park Service. Accessed February 18, 2014.
     Information about the area covered by Lock and Dam #1. 
Ohio DNR. "Alum Creek State Park." ODNR Division of Ohio State Parks. Accessed February 18, 2014. 
     Information about the construction of the Alum Creek Dam. 
Photo of Lake Tahoe Dam. Photograph. USGS. Accessed February 19, 2014. 
     Used to show an image of a buttress dam. 

Platt, Deb. Hoover Dam Causeway. Photograph. My Opera. April 28, 2010. Accessed February 19, 2014. 
     Used to show a present-day image of the Hoover Dam in Westerville, Ohio. 
Watson, Ken. "How a Lock Works." Rideau Canal World Heritage Site. Accessed February 18, 2014. 
     Information about what a lock is and how it works. 


Yang, Heloisa, Matt Haynes, Stephen Winzenread, and Kevin Okada. "The History of Dams." University 
     of California - Davis. Last modified 1999. Accessed February 18, 2014. 
Information about the ancient history of dams.

Utopia Analysis

Though the three works each contribute different points or opinions, “Mapping Arcadia,” by Denis Cosgrove, “America as Landscape,” by Denis Cosgrove, and “Utopia,” by Thomas More all exemplify the idea of a world or utopia outside the reality world or time they are discussing within their writings. Through contrast and comparison, the three works and the concept of a utopia can further be explained.

Thomas More’s utopia, a fantasy island placed in the New World, was an alternate world crisply structured to ensure happiness and equality. More enforced ideas in his world such as citizens not owning private property, eating meals in large, community-oriented dining halls, and only taking supplies when needed. More observed and criticized the policies of his European homestead which allowed him to be able to visualize and mold his own policies for his utopian world. I believe that More placed his utopian world in the New World because like many other Europeans looking at the New World, it became a symbol of hope and dreams. Throughout history, it has been recorded that Europeans leave their continent in order to start new lives in the New World and later, these escapades develop the colonies that shape the United States today. Europeans liked the idea of a new, mostly uncolonized land where they could break away from European policy and create their own within their own settlements. Thomas More did not seem to be an exception. In his work, he openly criticizes European ideas and dreams of a new life through this utopia in the New World. Because he sees the New World in the same fresh start, new opportunity light as other Europeans, he decided to place his utopia in that period of time.

In “Mapping Arcadia,” Denis Cosgrove discusses the concept of Arcadia, a nonexistent location that takes the form of the utopian dream of a landscape for people to reflect on throughout history. Like More’s dream, Arcadia is a utopia as well but takes on a different form than More’s. More’s utopia is planned out geographically and every single policy and structure is developed. Arcadia is not an actual location and takes on a much different structure. It really has not structure. It is a beautiful concept for individuals to reflect or dream upon. Though both ideas represent a utopia, Cosgrove and More take on a different approach to the utopias they are reflecting on. Cosgrove discusses the idea of mapping not always being geographical and instead, the possibility for it to be creative and imaginative. Of course, More had to be creative in order to create his own alternate world, but he did not leave any room for his world to be creative. He instead used the assumed definition of mapping to create the physical appearance and every policy of his world. Jacopo Sannazaro wrote a poem, Arcadia, in the 1480s full of beautiful adjectives and descriptions of the dreamy landscape San Cipriano. The descriptive adjectives and appreciation of a certain landscape in the poem truly show how Arcadia should be used: as an item of the beauty and possibility of all landscapes. More just doesn’t seem to see or express this concept of natural beauty when shaping his perfect, uniform world. His beauty may be uniformity and policies he supports.

Denis Cosgrove takes a different approach in his work, “America as Landscape.” In this writing, he reflects upon the time of the New World and the preoccupation with the attempt to achieve the supposed Golden Age myth. One can relate the Golden Age to More’s utopia more than Arcadia due to the doctrine of structure being further enforced. Cosgrove begins his article discussing the difference between Europeans who travel to the New World. He differentiated two types clearly: those who travel to the New World and begin working on the ground and civilization immediately and those who explore the New World and map out ideas and dreams about the new lands. Those who explored and mapped appeared to create more structure and spur more ideas than those who focused on first gaining something. Thomas More seems to be like one of those individuals who explored and mapped. I feel like this time that he would have explored or mapped can be compared to his observations of European policies and the ideas that were hurting Europe as a whole. These observations led to his ability to dream about and map out a new utopian world. Cosgrove also reflects upon the idea of the myth of the Golden Age. More appears to be creating his own Golden Age for the flaws he found in Europe. Both his world and the Golden Age world value sharing everything and the doctrine of equality in general. They don’t value gold as anything other than something the community can share to receive something needed from other countries or to bribe them. However, I feel that there is still a major difference between the Golden Age and More’s utopia. When a Golden Age is occurring, it doesn’t seem so planned out. It just appears to be a time of happiness, prosperity, and even a sense of naiveness to the idea of it occurring. More’s world doesn’t seem to posses this quality of happiness and lack of planning. More’s world appears to be an emotionless world where individuals are just coexisting. The world is planned out and More knows and plans exactly when it would happen. The Golden Age seems to be much more of a free concept. For example, European leaders earned to achieve a Golden Age like the Native Americans who happily shared belongings and lived around mounds of gold to which they saw no value. Though More tried, a planned Golden Age seems like it would be difficult to achieve superficially.

Cosgrove and More both explain different ways the world has been viewed over time and the ways that people have tried to achieve these dreams. Though the ideas are similar, the world will always be viewed differently by every individual. Would a utopia even be possible with so many conflicting views?



Sources Cited

Denis Cosgrove. “America as Landscape.” Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape. Ch. 6. p. 161_168. n.d. University of Wisconsin Press. January 14, 2014.

Denis Cosgrove. “Mapping Arcadia.” Geography and Vision: Seeing, Imagining, and Representing the World. Ch. 4. p 68_84. 2008. I.B. Taurus. Accessed January 14, 2014.

Thomas More. “Utopia.” 2005. Accessed January 14, 2014.