US Army Corps of Engineers
Nashville District

District Digest News Stories

Dale Hollow Lake photo of ‘town that drowned’ goes viral on Facebook

Nashville District Public Affairs
Published Feb. 25, 2016
This aerial photo reveals the foundation of an old school house on the bottom of Dale Hollow Lake where the town of Willow Grove, Tenn., once stood before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District built Dale Hollow Dam and the lake waters rose in 1943.

This aerial photo reveals the foundation of an old school house on the bottom of Dale Hollow Lake where the town of Willow Grove, Tenn., once stood before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District built Dale Hollow Dam and the lake waters rose in 1943.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Feb. 25, 2016) – A photo with an aerial view of an old school house foundation visible on the bottom of Dale Hollow Lake is going viral on the lake’s Facebook page. It shows the only remaining remnant of the town of Willow Grove, known as the “town that drowned,” which can be seen through the pristine water when the lake elevation is low.

The photo credit goes to Craig Sutton, now a retired employee of Trooper Island at Dale Hollow Lake.  He took the photo Nov. 5, 2008 and provided it to the Corps of Engineers.  Vicky Alley, who works at the lake, pulled the photo out of a historical file and posted it on Facebook Feb. 24. It is generating lots of attention, more shares and lots of likes on Facebook.

At last glance today, the Dale Hollow Lake Facebook Page almost tripled its page likes with an updated total of 9,425.  The photo has already reached 690,421 people, garnered 5,121 shares, and received more than 3,900 likes.

In an article titled “Willow Grove, the Town That Drowned,” written by Darren Shell that is republished with permission on the Nashville District web site, the town of Willow Grove, “not unlike the fabled city of Atlantis, is now under a lavish blanket of water.”

According to Shell, the U.S. Government bought the town in 1942 in preparation for the waters that would rise up when the Corps of Engineers built the dam and impounded Dale Hollow Lake for flood risk reduction in 1943. 

“Willow Grove sat along the banks of Irons Creek and was lovingly named from the Willow trees that grew along its shores. For its day, this little town was not so little. It had service stations, churches, general stores, and one of the largest school buildings within miles. It even had a large gymnasium, where children rode horse-back to basketball games,” Shell wrote about the once bustling town.

Park Ranger Sondra Carmen, who helps administrate the lake’s Facebook page, said the old school house is a favorite spot for scuba divers and she understands why the photo on Facebook went viral.

“A lot of people in the surrounding communities have heard the stories about the dam being built and communities being relocated for the lake waters,” she said.  “People come from all over to recreate at the lake today and I think everyone appreciates the history and sacrifices that were made in the development of the Cumberland River Basin.”

Carmen said the foundation is just out from the designated beach at Willow Grove Campground and is marked with rock buoys on three sides to alert vessels and prevent accidents when the lake is lowered.

“In normal operations the foundation can be seen in the fall eerily lurking below the surface,” Carmen said.  “Why the fall?  This is our winter drawdown.  During my career here, the foundation has only surfaced twice due to having to lower our pool for the rehabilitation of the dam at Lake Cumberland, and during time of low inflow.”

(Related scuba diving video at the Willow Grove School ruins posted on YouTube by Eddy Haynes) 


(Construction of Dale Hollow & Wolf Creek Dams)

(For news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District go to the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)