Black Warrior River

Black Warrior River

The Black Warrior River is a tributary of the Tombigbee River, approximately 178 mi (286 km) long, in west central Alabama in the United States. It drains an area of 6,275 sq mi (16,250 km²) with its upper watershed encompassing a forested area of high bluffs at the extreme southern end of the Appalachian Mountains north and west of the city of Birmingham. In its lower reaches it flows across the forests of the coastal plain. It is impounded along nearly its entire course in a chain of narrow reservoirs for hydroelectricity, drinking water, and as an aid to navigation.


The river is formed approximately 25 mi (40 km) west of Birmingham by the confluence of the Mulberry and Locust forks, which join as arms of Bankhead Lake, a narrow reservoir on the upper river formed by the Bankhead Lock and Dam. Bankhead Lake and Holt Lake, formed by the Holt Lock and Dam, encompass the entire course of the river for its upper 50 mi (80 km) stretching southeast into central Tuscaloosa County, northwest of Tuscaloosa. The Black Warrior flows westward past downtown Tuscaloosa, the largest city on the river, then flows generally south in a highly meandering course, joining the Tombigbee from the northeast at Demopolis. The lower 30 mi (48 km) of the river are part of the narrow Lake Demopolis.

Early Development

To develop the coal industries of Central Alabama the Federal Government in the 1880s began building a system of dressed rock lock and dams that concluded in 17 locks and dams. The first 16 locks and dams were constructed of Sandstone quarried from the banks of the river and the river bed itself. Huge blocks of stone were hand shaped with hammer and chisel to construct the locks and dams, and a few of these dams were in service until the 1960s. One example of the craftsmanship of the stone locks is at University Park on Jack Warner Parkway in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The bank side wall of Lock 3 (Later renumbered Lock 12 and today largely disassembled) is the last remnant of the locks and dams made of this dressed rock from the 1880s-90s. A concrete dam completed in 1915, Lock 17 (John Hollis Bankhead Lock and Dam) is the last and only existing of the original dams, and has been modernized over the years with the addition of spillway gates, and a larger single lift lock. Lock 17 and Holt Lock and Dam also have hydro generating plants owned by Alabama Power suppling electricity for the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama areas. This lock and dam system made the Black Warrior River navigable along its entire course and one of the longest channelized waterways in the United States, forming part of the extended system that link the Gulf of Mexico to Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham became the "Pittsburgh of the South", shipping Iron and steel products via the Black Warrior River through the Panama Canal to the West Coast and the world. Coal is barged to Mobile and is shipped throughout the world today making Mobile the largest coal port in the South.

The Black Warrior River receives the North River from the north approximately 1 mi (1.6) northwest of Tuscaloosa. North River was dammed in 1968 to form Lake Tuscaloosa and is main source for water for the City of Tuscaloosa.

Variant names of the Black Warrior River include Apotaka Hacha River, Bance River, Chocta River, Pafallaya River, Patagahatche River, Tascaloosa River, Tuskaloosa River, and Warrior River.


  • Black Warrior River
  • The Harnessing of the Black Warrior River by Kenneth Willis
  • Honoree Fanonne Jeffers. " Tuscaloosa: Riversong" Southern Spaces

See also

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