The Kwasind Dredged the Tennessee River to Keep it Navigable

Sunday, May 11, 2014 - by Harmon Jolley
The Kwasind, hard at work on a project.
The Kwasind, hard at work on a project.

The reservoirs and dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority have been a great boon to our area in preventing floods.  However, by maintaining adequate water levels during dry periods, TVA has also been beneficial in allowing navigation to continue.  Dredges, those machines which do the dirty job of removing silt and debris from river channels, are still important today but even more so prior to TVA. 

I came across an old photo of the dredge Kwasind, which is referenced in several reports of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.   Kwasind was a character in “The Song of Hiawatha,” an 1855 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.   The name is appropriate for a dredge, since Kwasind helped his friend, Hiawatha, to remove roots, sandbars, and sturgeons from rivers and lakes.

According to one of the documents of the Corps, the Kwasind was built in Knoxville in 1899.  It was a dipper dredge with a steel hull and a wooden frame.  Dimensions were, in feet, a length of 80, breadth of 28, and a depth of 6. 

Dredges were used in scooping material from the river bottom in order to maintain a navigable depth.  Work crews were dispatched by the Corps where needed.  Frequent trouble spots included natural shoals of the river, as well as mouths of tributaries where silt often collected.

The 1913 Report of the Chief Engineers listed the Kwasind as being involved in a project at Kelly Shoals, 47 miles above Chattanooga.  “A channel  4,300 feet long and 150 feet wide has been dredged through these shoals;  the first cut being casted to the left of the channel forming the base for the longitudinal dike.   Taking the survey made just previous to the commencement of the work as a basis and the daily records of the dredge as to the character of material removed, it is estimated that approximately 22,226 cubic yards of blasted rock and 29,560 cubic yards of gravel place measurement have been removed.

I believe that the location 47 miles above Chattanooga places that in the vicinity of Meigs County.  That may explain why that the photo of the Kwasind was in a box of old family photographs.  My maternal grandmother’s family, the Grubbs, lived in Meigs County at the time of the report of the chief engineers.  Possibly some family members were employed in the dredging project.

In the 1920 Report of the Chief Engineers, the Kwasind was mentioned as being employed at the shoals where North Chickamauga Creek flowed into the Tennessee at Big Ridge.  “Party No 2 worked at North Chickamauga Shoals from July 1 to 28 and October 1 to 11 1919 completing this work and was equipped during the greater part of the time with the following plant: Dredge Kwasind, steamer Ocoee, derrick boat No 7 drill, tender No 4, 1 drill outfit, 1 pump boat, 1 tool boat, 5 quarter boats, 2 launches, 10 barges, 3 dumpscows, 1 storage boat, and 1 flat boat.”

Though TVA raised water levels by constructing dams, dredges continue to be used.  I found several references to TVA projects which required dredging over the years.  In recent years, the clean-up of the Kingston Fossil Plant ash spill is referenced on several sites which mention dredges.

If you or someone you know has ever worked in a dredging operation, or you have additional information on the Kwasind, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.    I will update this article with some of your comments.

Photograph of the Kwasind from the Cincinnati Public Library
Photograph of the Kwasind from the Cincinnati Public Library

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