The Plaquemine Lock was completed in 1909 and was designed by Colonel George Goethals, who would later become famous for designing the Panama Canal. When it was completed, the lock was the highest freshwater lock in the world. It's located across the street from the Iberville Museum. Plaquemine Lock is operated between the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, the City of Plaquemine and the Iberville Parish Tourism Department. Site features include a short film, guided tour of the lock house, view of the Mississippi River and lock chamber, and several examples of boats used along the Atchafalaya Basin.
The Plaquemine Lock was designed by Colonel George W.
Goethals (1858-1928), the assistant to the chief engineer of the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers. Goethals later gained distinction as chairman and chief
engineer of the Isthmian Canal Commission for the design and construction of
the Panama Canal.
When completed in 1909, the lock was significant for having
the highest freshwater lift of any lock in the world at 51 feet and a unique
engineering design that used a gravity flow principle. The gates were later
modernized by the installation of hydraulic pumps. The lock served its purpose
well by providing a shortcut from the Mississippi River into Louisiana’s
interior. By 1925, Bayou Plaquemine had become the northern terminus of the
Intracoastal Canal system.
As a distributary of the Mississippi River and a route to
the heartland of Louisiana through the Atchafalaya Basin, Bayou Plaquemine was
used as navigable artery centuries before the age of European exploration. From
the early 1700s, Bayou Plaquemine served as a commercial transport route,
promoting settlement and economic prosperity in southwest and northern
Louisiana via the Atchafalaya, Red and other rivers.
Increased river traffic during and after World War II put a
severe strain on the lock’s capacity and demand increased for a larger lock at
Port Allen. In 1961, a larger set of locks began operating at Port Allen and
the Plaquemine Lock was closed after 52 years of service. Thirteen years after
closing the lock, the Corps of Engineers supervised the construction of the
present levee across the mouth of Bayou Plaquemine at the Mississippi River,
giving the historic old structure greater stability and providing flood
protection, while closing off access to the Mississippi River through Bayou
In 1972, the Plaquemine Lock structure was placed on the
National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the lock, the area
includes the Gary James Hebert Memorial Lockhouse, which serves as a museum and
visitors center. Hebert worked to prevent the destruction of the lock by the
Corps of Engineers and campaigned to have the area preserved as a historic
site. Facilities also include a stylized adaptation of the Lockmaster’s house
which provides open-air pavilion space to display various water craft used when
the lock was operational.