THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT & THE SOO LOCKS
As trade increased and larger boats became prevalent in the Northwest Territory, the process of unloading and hauling cargo around the rapids in wagons became necessary. In 1797, the Northwest Fur Company constructed a 38-foot navigation lock on the Canadian side of the river for small boats. This lock remained in use until the War of 1812, when it was destroyed. Subsequently, freighters and boats had to be portaged around the rapids once again.
In 1852, Congress passed an act granting 750,000 acres of public land to the State of Michigan as compensation to the company that would build a lock permitting waterborne commerce between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes. In 1853, the Fairbanks Scale Company, with extensive mining interests in the Upper Peninsula, undertook this challenging construction project.
The first chamber to be built was the State Lock, completed in 1855. This lock tamed the 21-foot difference in water levels between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes and made easy transport between the two possible.
The Federal Government took control of the property and the lock system in the 1870s. Boats that passed through the State Lock were required to pay a toll of four cents per ton until 1877, when the toll was reduced to three cents.
Within a few years, commerce through the canal had grown to national importance and the need for new locks became clear. The funds required exceeded the state’s capabilities, and in 1881, the locks were transferred to the United States government and were placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps has operated the locks toll-free since that time.
The Weitzel Lock opened in 1881, and the original Poe Lock, named after Orlando Poe, was completed in 1896. The Davis and Sabin Locks were built in 1914 and 1919, respectively. The MacArthur Lock, named after General Douglas MacArthur, was constructed in 1943, and the Poe Lock was rebuilt in 1968 to accommodate larger and more modern ships such as the 13 1,000 footers of the Great Lakes.
Call (906) 202-1333 to find out when the next ship will pass through or check out our handy guide.