Center Hill Dam receives historic recognition

LANCASTER – Local community leaders and Corps officials recently dedicated a new Tennessee state historical marker that highlights the technical significance of Center Hill Dam and Powerhouse – a first of its kind designation.

During the unveiling ceremony, Lt. Col. Stephen Murphy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander, recognized the dam and powerhouse as historically representative of the federal flood control power development of the early post World War II era.

“Center Hill is historically significant because the structure makes it eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and the historical marker we’re putting up will be the first one put up on any Nashville district dam in Tennessee,” Murphy said.

Murphy noted that the Corps used state-of-the-art structural design materials and state-of-the-art power generation equipment of the period to build the dam.

“The engineering that was done without computers, with slide rules and hand-drawn drawings is truly phenomenal to me,” Murphy said.

On a rainy day that demonstrated the value of the dam capturing water runoff in its reservoir, local officials talked about the many benefits of the project.

Tennessee State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, District 40, said it’s important to preserve the history of the dam and to be knowledgeable of how the dam still provides important resources to local citizens and tourists.

“Since 1951 Center Hill Power Plant has produced hydroelectric power that is marketed by the Southwestern Power Administration and sold to utility companies,” Weaver said.  “So not only is it a historical marker, it provides juice and electricity for many, many Tennesseans most efficiently, and it also preserves a beautiful lake and a landmark for people to come (recreate).”

DeKalb County Mayor Tim Stribling said that since the dam’s impoundment 65 years ago, the lake has provided tremendous economic and recreational impact to regional communities. Nine marinas provide amenities to the public.

“Center Hill Lake now has over three million visitors per year,” Stribling said.  “These visitors provide an economic impact of over $70 million to our local economy, and that says so much for the lake and for the Corps.

“Many people have moved here because of the recreational opportunities at Center Hill Lake,” Stribling added.  “And I can directly say that without Center Hill Lake, DeKalb County, wouldn’t be the same county that it is.  But with Center Hill Lake it makes DeKalb County a great place of which to live, work and play.”

Construction of Center Hill Dam began in 1942, but World War II delayed its completion until 1951.  The 246-foot-high and 2,160-foot-long dam impounds 64 miles of the Caney Fork River and is one of 10 dams the Nashville District operates and maintains within the Cumberland River Basin.

Center Hill Powerhouse contains three main turbine generators with a combined rated capacity of 135,000 kilowatts, enough to power 12,000 homes, which reduces the cost of electricity during peak periods of the daytime.  The three units can supply the needs of an average city of 125,000.

The Corps awarded a $47.25 million contract to Voith Hydro in June 2014 to rehabilitate the hydropower units at Center Hill Dam and recently disassembled the first unit in the early stages of the project.

The historical marker will be placed at the Center Hill Dam overlook next along Tennessee Highway 96/141, which is located beside a parking lot before crossing the dam.