Civil War Waterworks at Camp Nelson

In April 2016, we visited the location of the Camp Nelson waterworks, which was located on the banks of the Kentucky River to the west of the Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park. Dr. Christopher Begley and student Lucy Macfarlan accompanied Dr. Steve McBride to the site. They accessed the site from the east, overland, following the remnants of the trench which held the water line running from the pumping station to a reservoir up by the camp. The last part of the hike involved rappelling down a cliff face to the river bank.

The waterworks consisted of a structure, pictured below, which was powered by a steam engine. At the end of the Civil War, the structure was dismantled and the steam engine removed. Footers are still visible on the bank.

Our preliminary reconnaissance dives revealed evidence of intact structures in the river.The river level is higher now than in the 1860’s due to the construction of Lock and Dam 6 and 7 in 1891 and 1897. Locks and Dams 1 through 5 were put into operation between 1839 and 1842, but would not have impacted the river level at Camp Nelson.

The Ferry at Boonesboro


Our first fieldwork in the Kentucky Waterways Project focused on the Boonesborough Ferry, on the Kentucky River. The ferry was the first to operate in Kentucky, as early as 1790. It ceased operation in the 1930’s when a bridge was built across the river just downriver from this location.


Remains of the last iteration of the Boonesboro ferry. This is possibly the ferry in the old photo above.


We took measurements and photos, documenting not only the ferry boat but also some of the related structures on the shore. Thanks to Bella Begley for the photography and braving the downpour that cut short our fieldwork.

Do you have any information or stories related to this ferry? If so, please leave a comment.

About the Kentucky Waterways Project


The Kentucky River Heritage project explores the history and archaeology of the navigable waterways of Kentucky, from prehistoric river use to steamboats to river-based industries. Under the direction of Dr. Chris Begley of Transylvania University, this project welcomes students, professionals, and members of the public to share knowledge about this important element of Kentucky’s past

.Please email Chris Begley at for more information, to get information about upcoming field projects, and to share information or story about the river heritage of Kentucky.photo2