Project Watersheds  — MUR Watershed

Section 106

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of Federal, Federally assisted, or Federally permitted undertakings on historic properties listed in, or eligible for, the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) assists the lead Federal agency in identifying historic properties and consults with the agency on reducing or avoiding adverse effects.

Projects that require a Department of the Army permit are considered undertakings, therefore the effects of these projects on historic resources must be taken into consideration during the permitting process. Historic properties that may be evaluated under Section 106 for inclusion on the NRHP include historic and prehistoric archaeological sites, and historic structures, buildings, districts, and objects. 

Construction at Corps Facility sites, to include alterations, additions, or repairs made to significant structures, objects, or landscapes are subject to review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Additional actions that require compliance with the Act include replacement or repair of existing features and materials, as well as most maintenance work and construction of new buildings and structures. Such actions require consultation with the Huntington District’s cultural resources staff to ensure compliance with the Act and conformance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Properties, and related guidance for historic features, materials, and landscapes.

Muskingum Watershed History

Brief History

The origins of the Muskingum watershed systems of sixteen dams stem from the floods of March 1913, Ohio’s worst recorded natural disaster. Between March 23 and March 27, two storms passing over the state dropped about eight inches of rain, producing a flood over most of the Muskingum basin and much of the rest of Ohio. The city of Zanesville was heavily damaged, and eleven lives were lost in the Muskingum drainage area. The need for flood control measures to prevent a repetition of the 1913 floods, further spurred by the 1932 floods, led to the formation of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD). The MWCD applied to the Public Works Administration for funding and was initially awarded $22,590,000 to construct 14 dams and reservoirs. The Official Plan, prepared cooperatively by the MWCD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and approved in 1934, called for construction of 15 dams, four on Walhonding system, four on the Tuscarawas River system, four on the Stillwater Creek, and two on Wills Creek (Dillon Reservoir, on the Licking River, was authorized in 1938 and completed in 1960).

Extended History

The Muskingum River watershed is the largest within the state of Ohio, covering 8,051 square miles over all or part of twenty-seven counties. The Muskingum River system consists of the Muskingum River itself, which is joined by the Tuscarawas and Walhonding rivers at Coshocton, and four major sub-drainages, the Tuscarawas, Walhonding, Wills Creek, and Licking rivers. The Muskingum River flows southward from Coshocton to join the Ohio River at Marietta, a juncture that has been marked by flooding and many endeavors to stem the water collected in the northern reaches of the state.

With its impediments to navigation, the Muskingum River had always challenged civic planners and engineers. Schemes to create a canal system linking the Great Lakes and the Ohio River (Ohio-Erie Canal), as well as construction of a slack water lock and dam at Marietta were among the major nineteenth century achievements to open a pathway for the state’s industrial and agricultural products. Though flooding was a reality of life in the basin, major attention to the problem was not given until early in the twentieth century.

The concept of flood risk reduction by means of a system of dams and levees for eastern Ohio was championed as early as the mid-nineteenth century by civilian engineer, Charles Ellet Jr., but not realized until the flooding of the Miami River in western Ohio in 1913. As Dayton, Ohio recovered from the flood, rigorous flood control measures were imposed by the newly formed Miami Conservancy District, which was followed by the formation of the Upper Scioto Drainage and Conservancy District in 1915. The Miami River project resulted in five hydraulic fill dams, created by blasting sediments and gravel into water retention berms or “dry dams.” The system relied upon the standard infrastructure of levees to buttress the dam sites, an approach that remained unchallenged for the next decade.

In 1935, the Muskingum Basin’s unique climate and geography drew in moist air from the Gulf of Mississippi toward a stationary front, fueling a storm with severe consequences. In the aftermath, a conventional response would have meant raising levees a few feet, or straightening sections of the river, to include retention areas. This approach was not feasible for a number of reasons, mainly because the Ohio and its tributaries such as the Muskingum River had hilly topography and narrow cut river channels with limited flood plains.

At a time when dams in western states and some southeastern states were touted for navigational and hydroelectric benefits, both the Miami, and later Muskingum projects transformed flood control in the eastern United States. Using the Miami Conservation District as a model, east/central Ohio began eyeing a similar institutional approach for taming the sometimes violent Muskingum River and its tributaries. The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) formed in 1933 and submitted a draft plan to reduce flooding in the basin to the Public Works Administration (PWA). The initial plan called for fourteen flood control reservoirs. In 1933, even before it was freed from its single focus on navigation by the Flood Control Act of 1936, the Corps was given a grant of $22,090,000 by the PWA to construct the Muskingum system. The great floods of 1935-36 compelled swift action to implement the Facilities.

Construction was initiated under the direction of the Huntington District of the Corps, but soon shifted to Zanesville, where the Corps established a new district for more immediate and efficient oversight of the Facilities. All architectural design work, as well as soils analysis and site planning took place at Zanesville. The MWCD approved plans on 6 October 1934, with work commencing first on Charles Mill and Lake Tappan in January 1935. Facilities were built in three drainages that poured into the Muskingum River. The Walhonding River and its tributaries included dams at Mohawk, Pleasant Hill, Charles Mill, and Mohicanville. Dams were built at Bolivar, Atwood, Leesville, Beach City, Tappan, Clendening, Dover, and Piedmont on the Tuscarawas River; while Wills Creek and Senecaville dammed smaller streams east of Zanesville. Bolivar, Dover, Mohawk, and Mohicanville Dams all only impound water in times of high water and are referred to as “dry dams,” the other ten dams continuously impound water creating reservoirs behind them.

The Corps was assigned design and construction responsibilities, and relocation of roads and infrastructure, while the MWCD obtained right of ways and real estate purchases. Construction was aided by a large pool of unemployed men organized by the PWA. All dams, but Dover, were the rolled earth type, a continuous embankment of compacted impenetrable material with control mechanisms for passing water. Dover Dam was constructed as a concrete gravity dam which is designed to hold back water by using only the weight of the concrete or stone masonry and its resistance against the foundation to oppose the horizontal pressure of water pushing against it. Completed in 1938, the Muskingum Project was initially turned over to the MWCD, but soon reverted to Corps operation for the management of flowage easements and reservoirs, an arrangement that continues today, with the MWCD retaining ownership over most of the landholdings.

Today, the original fourteen Muskingum River Basin dams and associated building components create an evocative physical record of Depression-era flood risk management and technology, and of the period architecture that finessed industrial design with twentieth-century modernism. Collectively, their pyramidal embankments, highly-stylized intake/outlet works, and focused administrative areas project an unmistakable signature of regional water management history.

Clendening Dam was completed in 1936. The historic photo of the intake structure was taken on film in 1954 showing the original build and part of the stairwell. The current photo was taken on a digital camera in 2022 and show the newly constructed stairwell.


Leesville Dam was completed in October 1936. The historic photo was taken on film on October 22, 1937, showing the original build of the intake structure. The angle at which the photo was taken does not show the historic stairs, however, the next picture from 2022 before the stairwell replacement shows what they would have looked like. The final picture also from 2022 shows the stairwell replacement.  



Tappan Dam was completed in 1938. The historic photo was taken on film on November 2, 1936, showing the completed intake structure with the original build and stairwell. Note the dam was completed two years after this picture which explains the dry ground behind the intake structure.  The two current photos were taken on a digital camera in 2022 and show the newly constructed stairwell.



Additional construction photos of the intake structure at Leesville Dam.




Intake Towers

Notable Architecture 

The Muskingum Project intake structures serve to release water on a regular basis to maintain desired reservoir heights, but not to a degree requiring discharge through the spillways. Reservoir water is usually directed to the base of the tower via a conduit, and then into sluice gates that regulate flows. These towers are a hallmark of each Project and their striking architectural values reveal the widespread influence of modern industrial design during the Depression. Several towers exhibit modern design influences in their geometry, simple massing, ribbed buttresses, light fixtures, moldings, and bridge railings.

Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress had far reaching consequences for the built environment, as many exhibits and architectural features celebrated the union of style and functionality. The particular focus on national and international advances in technology and engineering, including the work of German designers, exalted utilitarian structures with spare but elegant lines and details that became known as Art Deco. The event permeated all aspects of industrial and civil works design and was extended on a more modest scale in places like the Muskingum River Basin.

Several federal dam projects became icons of Art Deco sophistication, many of which were more progressive in their architectural format than other public works of the time. Like most federal works, projects built by the Corps during the early 1930s were sometimes ungainly in their attempts to emulate the new architectural style, while the agency produced more sophisticated, streamlined, Art Deco/Moderne styling in the latter half of the decade. As a body of design work, Corps dams nationwide can be divided into two groups. Dams built before 1936 retrieve classical design elements or are relatively lacking in a specific style, while those built after that period reflect sophisticated, streamlined styling.

Falling within both design periods, the Muskingum Basin dams bear the influence of these modern currents but reach back to earlier decades for stylistic inspiration. For example, some intake structures are straightforward in their modest application of Art Deco styling while others pair transitional ideas with classical devices. Strong verticality was often achieved with pronounced ribs, which are often battered in profile, giving the tower a secure visual anchor to the landscape. Modest surface treatments and simple geometry, corbelled panels and horizontal bands, as well as highly styled light fixtures and entrance door surrounds often have the most pronounced Art Deco character.

Documented inspiration for the intake towers has not been found. However, it is reasonable to expect the designer’s hand to have been influenced by prevailing trends applied elsewhere in the country. Just south along the Ohio River, designs for major flood control and navigation dams fully embraced the Art Deco language using subtle geometry, simple rhythmic windows, and streamlined monolithic pier caps.

Apart from Art Deco references, many of the Muskingum Project towers incorporate classical motifs such as quoins and pediments that recall the conventions of past decades. Designers were clearly moved by the same modern aesthetic that swept through the country’s infrastructure during the Depression. The towers’ external massing and styling create a striking and recognizable property type defined by simple form; stepped pier caps, spare detailing such as horizontal concrete scoring, and rhythmic geometric railings.

Other towers built atop the outlet works lacked the opportunity for Art Deco embellishment in the base structure. On these concrete monoliths, horizontal banding or scoring is used to reference the new modernism. Examples include the towers at Charles Mill and Senecaville Lake. Other intake towers relied upon classical devices for definition, such as those at Clendening and Atwood dams which feature triangular pediments and concrete and brick quoins. The most pronounced treatment is found on the entrance surround on the Tappan Lake structure which consists of rusticated sandstone that rises to a keystone arch.

Although the design for the operator’s quarters and office building could be repeated at each project regardless of geology or topography, design of the dam itself and associated intake structure and other components had to be site specific. There are, however, no apparent local or vernacular influences to account for the variations in the design of the towers. Therefore, it can be posited that once Corps designers had accommodated site topography and engineering functions, they had some license in the stylistic treatment of each structure.

Stairwell Replacement Mitigation

To meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Huntington District, replaced the original exterior stairs at Atwood, Clendening, Leesville, Piedmont, and Tappan Dam Intake Structures. Construction at all Corps Facility sites, to include alterations, additions, or repairs made to significant structures, objects, or landscapes are subject to review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Furthermore, the dams have been recommended as eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Properties (NRHP). The Corps was required to consider how the stairwell replacement may affect each of the historic properties. The intake structures were determined a contributing element to the NRHP eligibility of the dams, and the replacement of the stairs would adversely affect the properties eligibility for listing in the NRHP. Therefore, with consultation with the Ohio’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) the Corps determined mitigation would be done through the creation of this website. To the left are historic photos of the intake structures coupled with current photos that show the new stairwells at Clendening, Leesville, and Tappan Dam. Atwood and Piedmont Dams do not have historical photos.