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Red House Shoal

The Red House Shoal is located on the Kanawha River near the town of Red House in Putnam County. A rock ledge in the river with nearly a three-foot drop, the shoal was a serious obstacle to navigation before the river was dammed and its depth increased. Beginning in 1829, the State of Virginia began blasting and excavating shoals in the Kanawha River including the Red House shoal. The blasting at Red House Shoal created a very swift chute for boats to navigate through. This chute became a famous challenge among rivermen. The Robert Thompson, the first steamboat to attempt to get to Charleston, failed because of its inability to pass the shoal in 1819. The Thompson spent two days trying to pass over it before returning to the Ohio River. Just over a year later, the Andrew Donnally would best the Red House Shoals and land at Charleston. Passage became easier when the chute was blasted, but because of a bend in the river just upstream and the swiftness of the current passing through the chute, Red House remained difficult until the high-lift locks and dams were built in the 1930s.

Written by Gerald W. Sutphin


  1. Johnson, Leland R. Men, Mountains, and Rivers. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1977.

  2. Sutphin, Gerald W. & Richard A. Andre. Sternwheelers on the Great Kanawha River. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1991.