In 1836, the State of Ohio was commissioned under the state legislature to create a series of slack water pools utilizing rock filled, timber crib dams to create depths adequate for navigation of steamboats. Sandstone locks were built to traverse around the dams. This initiative was the largest capital improvement project the state had undertook at the time. The project on the 112-mile-long river was completed in 1841.
The Muskingum River Parkway and its navigation system were designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in July 2001. Along with such majestic institutions as Hoover Dam, The Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge, the Muskingum River's 10 hand-operated locks are now recognized as one of America's great engineering accomplishments.
Lock and Dam No. 5 is also called Luke Chute Lock and Dam. Williams' "History of Washington County," published in 1881, says local tradition attributed the origin of the name "Luke Chute" to a tale of a father and his young son hunting in the early days of the community.
The son, Luke, was carrying the gun. The pair stumbled upon a bear in a deep thicket. The bear began walking upright toward them.
"Luke took steady aim but hesitated to fire," Williams' "History" recounts. "The father trembled for a moment and then screamed in impatient fright: 'Luke shoot or give up the gun!' Luke shot, and the bear dropped dead."
This colorful tale is just that, a tall tale. The actual story is not quite as exciting. Circa 1815, Luke Emerson and Samuel White built a dam partway across the river. The dam created a rapid between the shore and the end of the dam, the chute. Hence the name "Luke Chute." At this location, they constructed a mill to grind grain.
Today, the Muskingum River Parkway features the nation’s only complete working system of hand-operated river locks. The historic locks are operated manually by lock tenders in a similar manner as when they were built in 1841.