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Project History

In the 1700’s, a wandering hunter by the name of Uriah Stone turned up a small river which was later named in his honor.  He found a country of open grasslands, cedar barrens, and woodlands which so abounded in game it staggered his imagination.  The Stone’s River Basin had long been the favored hunting grounds of the Creek, Chickasaws, Shawnees, and Cherokees.  Andrew Jackson followed some years later and built a magnificent columned mansion on a plantation near the Stones River which he called “The Hermitage”.  Two hundred years later the Congress of the United States, by the authority of the Flood Control Act of 1946, commissioned the construction of a project under the name, “Stewarts Ferry Reservoir”.  Public Law 85-496, approved July 2, 1958, changed the name to J. Percy Priest in honor of the late Congressman from Tennessee. Construction began June 2, 1963 and the dam was completed in 1968.  The 33,052-acre project is managed by a natural resource management staff under the direction of the District Commander in Nashville.

J. Percy Priest Dam is visible from Interstate 40 and is located between miles six and seven of the Stones River.  It is conveniently located about ten miles east of downtown Nashville and impounds a lake 42 miles long.  J. Percy Priest Lake covers portions of Davidson, Rutherford, and Wilson Counties and consists of 14,200 surface acres of water at summer pool elevation (490 feet above mean sea level).  The water is surrounded by 18,852 acres of public lands; 10,768 acres are devoted to wildlife management.


James Percy Priest

J. Percy Priest Lake is named in honor of Rep. James Percy Priest, who was a high school teacher, coach and reporter/editor for the Nashville Tennessean before he was elected to Congress. He represented Nashville and Davidson County from 1940 until his death in 1956.

 James Percy Priest was born on April 1, 1900 in Carters Creek, Tennessee.  After growing up in Maury County, he attended Teachers College in Murfreesboro and graduate school at George Peabody College in Nashville and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Priest was a teacher for six years until he came to Nashville in 1926.  He worked for the next fourteen years at “The Tennessean” newspaper.  He began a distinguished career in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1940.  His bill established the National Science Foundation.  He never lost an election and became his party “whip” in 1946.

Priest was influential in the establishment of five major airports in Tennessee as well as the Veterans Hospital and the Federal Courthouse in Nashville.  He died of stomach ulcers on Oct. 16, 1956.

Corps projects are normally named for a nearby geographical place name such as an incorporated town, a ferry or landing site, etc. Only through a Congressional Act can a project be named for an individual. 

Initially authorized in 1938, the project was called the Stewart's Ferry Project. However, Congress appropriated no funding for construction. In the June 30, 1968, edition of the Tennessean, Murfreesboro, Tenn., businessman, E.W. Carmack, explained that after Priest's sudden demise, he and the members of the Cumberland River Development Association petitioned the project be renamed for the Congressman. Nashville District Commander, Col. Gilbert Dorland (1952-1956) stated "the name change for a recently departed and greatly beloved member of the House was a piece of inspiration that brought approval of the request for funds." 

Congress officially changed the project name from Stewart's Ferry to J. Percy Priest on July 2, 1958. After several years of studies, the project received funding in 1963. Groundbreaking occurred on June 29, with excavation beginning the following month. President Lyndon B. Johnson dedicated the project on June 29, 1968.