CELINA, Tenn. (Oct. 19, 2018) – As a heavy fog lifted over Dale Hollow Dam and Reservoir during the 75th Anniversary Commemoration this morning, members of the community and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials brought into clear focus how communities, homes and farmlands were given up in the early 1940s to make way for the reservoir, and more than a thousand men worked day and night to construct the dam. A few even lost their lives supporting an expedited construction program.
Eddie Clark, regional field services director for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, shared how his family lost their farms when the Corps constructed Dale Hollow Dam. His father’s family lived in Willow Grove, a town inundated by the lake, and his mother’s family, the Terry family, owned the land where the dam is located.
“I want to help you see the project through the people who lived it,” Clark said. “Given the time period, it was almost unimaginable to these folks given the size and scale of what they were trying to do here, to comprehend.”
He said for the residents who lived on the Obey River and farmed it, who had seen it rise and knew what it could do, the idea of building a dam to control it may have been somewhat unbelievable. And being asked to leave their homes and their land was difficult for them, he explained.
“If my great, great grandmother were here today and she were delivering this speech, she would start off by telling you that you are all trespassing,” Clark said. “She was quoted as saying that ‘I was born in this house and I aim to die in this house.’”
Weeks before having to move out, she died of pneumonia, and did not experience leaving her home like so many others had to in preparation for the waters that would come.
The Corps awarded the contract Dec. 30, 1941 and mobilization, clearing and construction of roadways and support structures began immediately. Construction of the dam began March 2, 1942. With sister construction of civil works projects suspended due to war, the government rushed Dale Hollow Dam to completion on Oct. 20, 1943, but discontinued construction of the powerhouse. The powerhouse was only constructed to a stage that allowed the coffer dams to be removed, while only common excavation was completed for the switchyard.
The project reached peak employment in 1942 when approximately 1,200 men were at the project, 950 who were skilled or unskilled through the union. The remainder were supervisory and Engineer Department employees. At the same time, 2,500 people cleared 25,000 acres upstream to prepare for the reservoir.
The Corps fully impounded Dale Hollow Lake May 7, 1944. Work on the power house resumed in July 1946. Three Francis turbines were installed in December 1948, January 1949 and November 1953. Each unit generates 18,000 kilowatts for a total of 54,000 kilowatts, enough power to electrify a community of 45,000 and provide support to the local, regional and national grids.
The dam proved its worth when a destructive flood raged down the valley in the spring of 1945. It is the first reservoir in Nashville District history credited with the reduction of flood damages.
Bill Groth, AECOM Project Manager, represented Morris-Knudsen Company, now a legacy company of AECOM, during the ceremony. He said it typically takes three years to build a dam the size of Dale Hollow Dam, but because of the war the Corps of Engineers tasked them to get it done in half the time.
By June 1942 excavation of the abutments and foundation made it possible to place the first bucket of concrete. “From that point on it was a concrete show,” Groth said.
Ten-ton trucks delivered cement supplied by the government to the dam construction site from the Algood Rail Siding 35 miles away. The deliveries were nonstop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Over the course of 17 months each truck put on over 100,000 miles,” Groth said.
Aggregates deliveries were made six days a week and 20 hours per day using 40 trucks, each hauling six tons of material. Cement, aggregates and water were mixed at a batch plant on site. Concrete buckets were moved by rail and positioned where a hammerhead derrick would lift them into place.
“The men would dump it, vibrate it, and repeat it over and over again,” Groth explained.
They placed over 573,000 cubic yards of concrete, an average of 8,000 cubic yards of concrete per week, which by today’s standard is difficult, Groth said.
Because the work to complete Dale Hollow Dam finished in 1943 during World War II, the Corps of Engineers never officially dedicated the dam, which is customary with these projects. At the conclusion of Groth’s comments, he led a formal dedication of the dam project as part of the commemoration.
Groth received a red flag from Soldiers of the 2nd Squadron of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Tennessee National Guard. He then waved it to signal another Soldier to shoot off three volleys from a cannon.
The loud booms were heard across the dam and lake, making the dedication official.
During the commemoration, Ruth Dyal, Upper Cumberland Tourism Association executive director, spoke about tourism and benefits of the lake. Recording Artist Delnora Reed Acuff, Banjoist Brandy Miller and Guitarist Joe Dean performed music of the period of the 1940s, and Acuff performed the National Anthem. Park Ranger Bobby Bartlett, a community icon known as “Mr. B,” gave the invocation. He also gave the invocation at the 50th Anniversary in 1993.
Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander, finally recognized the history and benefits of the dam, which include flood risk reduction, hydropower, recreation, water storage, and water quality.
“Today we celebrate the last 75 years of Dale Hollow and we will look forward to the next 75 as Dale Hollow Dam will continue to be an important part of the mid-Cumberland area,” Jones said. “If you have spent any time here you can see why it is one of the most visited lakes in the Corps. It is beautiful. It is historic. It has amazing recreation and opportunities at our facilities.”
Jones joined Stanley Carter, Power Plant superintendent, Clark, and his mother Katherine Terry Clark, 92, to unveil a state of Tennessee Historical Marker recognizing the significance of Dale Hollow Dam and Powerhouse, and Reservoir. The sign is permanently displayed at the Dale Hollow Dam Overlook to highlight the significance of the project.
Clay County Mayor Dale Reagan closed the ceremony with the benediction and noted how his family members were also relocated from the Willow Grove area ahead of the impoundment of the lake.
Dale Hollow Dam is a multipurpose project that makes up the Corps of Engineers’ system for development of the water resources of the Cumberland River Basin, an important part of a larger plan of development for the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Dale Hollow Lake is 61 miles long and lies in Clay, Fentress, Overton and Pickett Counties in Tennessee, and Clinton and Cumberland Counties in Kentucky. The Corps of Engineers operates four campgrounds with over 500 campsites, seven day-use areas, eight playgrounds, 192 picnic sites, eight picnic shelters, 30 launch ramps, and five hiking trails with 28.5 trail miles.
There are 15 commercial marinas represented by the Dale Hollow Marina Association that provide a wide variety of services, such as fuel, private boat moorage, electrical and water hookups, boat rentals, fishing and marine supplies, lodging, restaurants, snack bars, restrooms and lake access.
Jones lauded Corps employees and volunteers who have worked countless hours since 1943 taking care of the Dale Hollow project. He specifically expressed his appreciation to everyone who had a part in putting together the commemoration event, especially Park Ranger Sondra Carmen, who spearheaded the preparations.
“Dale Hollow would not be successful without the many dedicated team members who have served here throughout the years, whether they served as park rangers, hydropower operators, electricians, mechanics, maintenance and facilities workers, and administrative personnel,” Jones said.
The Nashville District appreciates the support given by the “Friends of Dale Hollow Lake” and President Toni Johnson to provide information and refreshments for the commemoration and for its work supporting environmental stewardship and host activities around the lake such as welcoming assistance for the Eagle Watch Program, lakeshore cleanups, coloring contests, environmental camp and other programs around the lake.
The Dale Hollow Dam’s 75th Anniversary website is available at https://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/DaleHollowDam75/ and includes historical video and imagery, news articles and resources.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. The public can also follow Dale Hollow Lake on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/dalehollowlake.)