History of Webbers Falls Lock and Dam

Webbers Falls Dam is a little over three miles upstream from the historic falls, where many a steamboat captain had to drop anchor and unload trade goods for overland shipping when water was low. The falls, referred to as “LaCascade” by General Zebulon Pike, and reported in 1806 to be six or seven feet high at normal stage of the river, were scarcely more than a riffle before impoundment to the present navigation pool levels. The navigation channel was excavated through the rocks which once formed the falls. As early as 1820, a salt plant in the Webbers Falls-Gore area was in operation. Salt was shipped in keel boats down the Arkansas River to Louisiana markets. After the Cherokee removal to this part of the Indian Territory, Walter Webber, a western Cherokee chief who established a trading post and portage service on the Arkansas River in 1829, took over the salt works.

At one time this area included the vast plantation of “Rich Joe” Vann, owner of the famous quarter-mile race horse, “Lucy Walker.” He later came into possession of a flashy Mississippi River steamboat which he named, “The Lucy Walker.” In those early days, Webbers Falls was the site of the most important steamboat landing between Fort Gibson and Fort Smith. By 1833, seventeen steamboats docked regularly at Fort Gibson.  During the height of steamboat traffic, thousands of bales of cotton were shipped from the Vann Plantation and other large farms in the Webbers Falls Bottoms.

A post office was established at Webbers Falls in 1856. The town began to flourish; then came the turbulent period of the Civil War.  It was burned by Federal troops in the spring of 1863.  Following the war, the town was rebuilt, and farms once more came under cultivation.  The traffic on the river served an increasingly large population until the coming of the Katy Railroad in 1872.

The Fort Gibson Stockade, on the banks of the Grand River near the upper reaches of the lake, is a national historic landmark.  For many years, Fort Gibson was one of the most important military establishments on the western frontier.

The project was authorized by the River and Harbor Act July 4, 1946, and amended by the Flood Control Acts of 1948 and 1950.  Authorized project purposes are hydroelectric power, fish and wildlife, and recreation.  Initial construction began in January 1965; closure was made on November 9, 1970, and the project was placed in useful operation. The lock and dam became operational for navigation in December 1970.

Webbers Falls Lock and Dam is a major unit in the multiple-purpose project for improvement of the Arkansas River and its tributaries in Arkansas and Oklahoma.