GRAND RIVERS, Ky. (Aug. 20, 2016) – Barkley Dam, a symbol of progress in western Kentucky, turned 50 today with fanfare, remembrances and special tributes during a commemoration ceremony at the Badgett Playhouse Theater and reception at the community center.
Lt. Col. Stephen Murphy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander, thanked the community for taking part in the commemoration of Barkley Dam on the 50th anniversary of its dedication, a milestone that brought “hope” to the region.
“Fifty years ago, almost to this very minute, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, the 38th vice president of the United States, delivered remarks to dedicate the dam,” Murphy said. “One of the things he said in his speech was river development is more than economics, more than flood control, more than recreation. It is hope.”
Congress authorized Barkley Dam in 1956 for navigation, hydroelectric power generation, and flood control. Today more than 3.89 million tons of cargo moves through the project each year and four 58,000 horsepower generators produce enough clean renewable energy to supply the equivalent of 112,000 homes annually. The dam has prevented $319 million in flood damage since it began operating.
“One of the greatest assets of Barkley Lock and Dam is its ability to save lives and property by serving as a huge means regionally for the Corps’ flood risk management efforts,” Murphy said. “Longtime residents of this area are well aware of the flooding that occurs.”
Justice Bill Cunningham, Kentucky Supreme Court, called the commemoration an emotional event and said he really wanted to participate out of respect for the Corps of Engineers, the Barkley Dam project, fellow Kentuckians that have struggled for progress, and to honor his father, who joined the Corps of Engineers as a laborer at age 18 and helped build the old Lock F in 1923 on the Cumberland River at Eddyville, Ky.
“My experience with the Army Corps of Engineers and its locks and dams is personal,” Cunningham said. “I was born in a house owned by the Corps of Engineers on the reservation at old Lock F.”
The justice said when his family finally moved into a private residence 15 years later, the Corps of Engineers came and took it away for the impoundment of Lake Barkley.
“I’m one of thousands of people along the valley – Eddyville, Kuttawa, Land between the rivers, of people who have been dislocated because of this major project.”
Cunningham said Barkley Dam did not come without a toll upon human lives and emotions, and the sacrifices made went largely unnoticed and unappreciated.
“We’d be ungrateful people here today as we celebrate, and we should be celebrating, not to also commemorate and remember those citizens of Kentucky and Tennessee who made the sacrifice of their homes and their community for the benefit of those who enjoy the blessings of this dam and this lake,” Cunningham said.
Judge Shea Nickell, Kentucky Court of Appeals, has strong family ties to the land between the rivers and also recalled the hardships made by so many people in making way for the dam.
“All families hailing from between the rivers have suffered the sacrifices and enjoyed the benefits of the impoundment of these two great bodies of water flowing nearby, and we today commemorate their generous and costly contribution to our nation’s progress as well,” Nickell said.
Nickell, who is well known for his lectures on local history, took time to address Barkley Dam’s namesake Alben Barkley (1877-1956), the 35th vice president of the United States.
Nickell said Humphrey won election to the senate in 1948 – the same year Barkley and President Harry S. Truman pulled off their legendary upset victory during the election. Humphrey and Barkley worked together to enact Truman’s progressive fair deal proposals, and they became close friends. Humphrey would attend Barkley’s funeral in 1956.
Humphrey recalled Barkley’s progressive philosophy during his dedication speech, highlighting his reputation for hard work, his old time oratory abilities, his storytelling skills, and his rich sense of humor. He called Barkley a man of vision and principle, a public servant, who believed that the power and wealth of America should serve all of its citizens, Nickell said.
As a tribute during the commemoration, Nickell presented a framed historical portrait of Alben Barkley to Mike Looney, Lake Barkley Resource manager, to be hung in the lake’s visitor’s center where it can be seen by future generations in memory of the vice president.
“Thank you for the opportunity to share a little bit of the history of the namesake of this great facility,” Nickell said.
At the Barkley Dam dedication Aug. 20, 1966, Humphrey mixed water from the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers at Barkley Dam, symbolizing the importance of the new dam and canal that connects the Twin Rivers, and he honored and drew attention to Barkley’s legacy.
“Another of the principles of Alben Barkley was that the natural resources of this country should serve all of the people. He felt the great rivers of this country should be sources of wealth, of happiness, and of wellbeing, and not of destruction and of fear,” Humphrey said. “Yet these great rivers, all of them, were once – and many of them still are – something to be feared as they rose over their banks flooding farms, filling streets and basements, destroying property and life. They swept past cities without means of power and they swept past farm homes lit by kerosene lanterns.”
Humphrey said Alben Barkley and others helped to change that, with projects like Barkley Dam that reduce the risk of flooding and provide other benefits.
“They set in motion the projects by which these rivers were put to work for human resources – building dams to hold waters back, using those waters to make electricity to light the darkened countryside, providing power to industries and creating year-round waterways over which barges could travel with raw materials and finished goods,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey called Barkley Dam a model for the nation, a great new resource to serve people’s daily lives, new industries, new jobs, new wealth, new businesses, and more pleasure and recreation.
Located near the mouth of the Cumberland River, the $142 million multi-purpose project provides for flood risk reduction, navigation, hydropower production, and supplemental benefits in recreation and water supply.
Construction of the project started in 1957. In March 1966 the Corps completed the project. Barkley Lock has operated 365 days a year since it began operating in 1964. Barkley Dam is 10,180 feet long and 157 feet high. The lock chamber is 800-feet long and 110-feet wide, with a normal lift of 57 feet. The lock now averages approximately 1,600 lockages every year.
When the Nashville District constructed Barkley Dam, it eliminated five obsolete locks and dams on the lower Cumberland River and opened the entire basin to a new era of economic improvement.
Today the Corps of Engineers staff at Lake Barkley manages campgrounds, recreation areas, boat ramps, and the recreation revenues generate an estimated $70 million per year for local economies. A total of 75 percent of the marina rental funds received by the Corps of Engineers is reinvested straight back to local communities.
Lake Barkley stretches 118 miles upstream and has 880 miles of shoreline and 57,920 acres of surface area. Barkley Canal, also built during the dam construction project, is nearly two miles long and the only free-flowing waterway in the nation linking major lakes on two principal rivers, the Cumberland River and Tennessee River. It has a bottom width of 400 feet and provides a minimum channel of 11 feet.
Kentucky Gov. Edward T. Breathitt, Tennessee Gov. Frank G. Clement and Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. William F. Cassidy also made remarks at the dedication, which an estimated 5,500 people attended.
Murphy said the project provides a lot of benefits to the region, but it was not without personal cost to local communities, business owners, landowners and residents that were affected by the construction of the dam and impoundment of the lake.
“A lot of memories were uprooted,” Murphy said. “There is a lot of history under the surface of the lake and these fellow citizens paid a high price to provide the benefits that we all enjoy today. And I’d like to take a special opportunity to just say on behalf of the Corps of Engineers – thank you.”
Grand Rivers Mayor Tom Moodie thanked everyone for commemorating the dam. He said he didn’t grow up during the creation of Barkley Dam and the lake, but he is grateful that he enjoyed reaping the benefits.
“I grew up on the shores of Barkley Lake playing like a kid in the gravel and the sand. And I learned to swim in Barkley Lake,” Moodie said. “I got all of the benefits of what came to pass for all of their struggles and all of the work that went on to create Barkley Dam and Barkley Lake. My age group really benefitted from what all of these people did. It has been a gift and growing up here has been the most wonderful experience that you could ever imagine.”
The Livingston County High School and Lyon County High School bands performed during the celebration. Cierra Henry performed the National Anthem.
“I want to say thanks to the Livingston County and Lyon County bands for coming together,” Cunningham said. “Cierra Henry… I don’t think I’ve ever heard a National Anthem done better.”
(For more information about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, visit the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and http://www.facebook.com/lakebarkley, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)