Keokuk and its “Great Dam” Mark a Century of Power
Thousands of people are expected to visit southeast Iowa this weekend for the 100th anniversary celebration of the historic dam that spans the Mississippi River between Keokuk and Hamilton.
Mike Foley, a member of the planning committee for the 100th anniversary, spent hundreds of hours researching the project and reviewing photographs and newspaper articles. The dream of a “little Chicago,” never came to pass, as the community’s population grew to about 15-thousand in 1920, but never exceeded 17-thousand…Far short of Chicago’s population of more than two-million people at that time.
Keokuk did gain several local industries, including Midwest Carbide and Keokuk Steel Castings. But it never realized those skyscrapers from the drawing. Foley says while the dam did not lead to the population or economic growth people expected — it at least put Keokuk on the map.
The construction of the dam seemed impossible to some. John Hallwas wrote the book “Keokuk and the Great Dam” and says engineer Hugh Cooper pushed for articles to be written about the construction for that very reason.
Hallwas says the notoriety increased as more and more dignitaries such as governors and senators from other states came to visit and observe the construction. And he says it’s important to note that the dam did accomplish its initial goal of improving river transportation.
Today the dam still controls river levels and produces electricity. Keokuk Mayor Tom Marion says there is another benefit — tourism. Foley with the planning committee says the most important thing to consider when it comes to the dam is that it is simply still there.
Local organizers expect 15-to-20 thousand people to visit Keokuk and Hamilton to participate in the 100th anniversary celebration.