Muscle Shoals was an approximately 30 to 40 mile stretch of the Tennessee River where it flows through the northern part of the state of Alabama. It contained shallow water, steep rapids, and islands. In some places it stretched about two miles wide. Muscle Shoals was quite steep, descending 130 feet in 34 miles. It provided a serious obstacle for river travel and commerce in the region.
Due to the complications it provided to travel and commerce, talks began in the 1820s about how to remedy the problem of Muscle Shoals. While several solutions were discussed, the solution eventually chosen was the construction of a canal. After some debate about sources of funding and use of land, a consensus was reached and construction began. The canal was constructed from 1831 to 1836 and was located on the north side of the river next to the shoals. It contained 17 locks and was about 15 miles long. However, it only bypassed the worst areas in the shoals and still did not allow steamboat passage. Several years after its completion, the canal was damaged by a flood and, combined with competition from a railroad that helped result in low tonnage of commerce passing through the canal, fell into disuse.
Renewed interest in the Muscle Shoals Canal arose around the 1880s and a canal was completed in 1890, built by the federal government. A small dam was also built at Widow's Bar in Jackson County for navigation purposes, and steamboats were finally able to travel the Tennessee River from the river mouth in Chattanooga. The Muscle Shoals Power Company was chartered by Alabama in 1899 and granted the right to build a series of dams by Congress in 1906, but nothing ever came of it. Nothing else happened with this area until World War I, when construction of the Wilson Dam began. After the dam's completion in 1926, commerce on the river increased greatly, but the entire area of the Muscle Shoals was flooded.Click here for a link to a diagram of the Muscle Shoals and canal.
- Dupre, Daniel. "Ambivalent Capitalists on the Cotton Frontier: Settlement and Development in the Tennessee Valley of Alabama." The Journal of Southern History 56, no. 2 (1990): 215-40. doi:10.2307/2210232.
- Richardson, Jesse M. 1966. "THE TENNESSEE RIVER VALLEY IN ALABAMA: ITS GEOGRAPHICAL SETTING." Journal Of The Alabama Academy Of Science 37, no. 1: 68-75. America: History and Life with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 2, 2017).