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Dam museum to reopen in Keokuk

Keokuk-Hamilton Dam Museum
courtesy photo

A museum in Keokuk featuring the history of the first dam built across the Mississippi River will reopen soon.

The Keokuk-Hamilton Dam Museum, 428 Main St., initially opened in November 2019. The exhibits include artifacts and photographs of the dam from when it was built between 1910 and 1913. The dam spans the river between Keokuk, Iowa on the west side and Hamilton, Illinois on the east side.

The museum was open for only a few months before the pandemic forced the building to close in March 2020. Soon after reopening in April 2021, another building two doors down was condemned, which forced the museum to close again last August for safety precautions.

The condemned building has since been demolished and the site has been cleared.

Kirk Brandenberger, Executive Director of the Keokuk Area Convention and Tourism Bureau, said he hopes the museum can reopen as soon as May 1.

“In the last couple of years, it has been closed more than it’s been open,” Brandenberger said. “But now we’re looking forward to it being open, again.”

Brandenberger said when the museum reopens, new exhibits will be on display, including a 27-foot-long mural of the dam.

The mural was initially hung 50 years ago in the Chuckwagon Café, a restaurant that was located down the street from the museum.

Brandenberger said many people visited the museum before it closed. He said people from 25 states and three foreign countries traveled to Keokuk to tour the museum during the few months it was open last year.

“People are waiting for it to be back open, again, so they can see it and so they can learn about the lock and dam,” he said. “A lot of people have a connection, a grandfather or uncle or someone who worked on the dam or who was at least here during that time. And so there is a lot of interest in the dam.”

Today, the dam operates as part of Lock and Dam No. 19. Electricity utility provider Ameren Missouri owns the dam and the adjacent hydroelectric power plant, Keokuk Energy Center.

The power plant sits alongside the lock, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates. The lock helps ships and barges navigate the upper Mississippi River, and the power plant generates enough electricity to power 75,000 homes each year.

Lock and Dam No. 19 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.