What’s Next for the Valley?

Portman Shoals .jpg

This colorized photograph shows the Portman Shaols dam and power plant circa 1920. It was a successful hydroelectric power plant that paved the way for the massive dams and lakes that would be built in the 1950's. 

Photo Courtesy of Historical Marker Database (hmbd.org)

Fast-forward to the turn of the twentieth century. Engineers had figured out how to harness energy from moving water and transport it to remote locations. Portman Shoals Dam was built a few miles north of Andersonville in 1889 and was successfully powering the city of Anderson. Hence the nickname, “The Electric City.”[i] As the United States continued to grow, so did the desire for electricity. Throughout the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt was committed to solving the domestic needs of the American people. With the success of the Tennessee Valley Authority, providing hydroelectric power to rural, southern areas was of upmost concern to the president. In August of 1935, President Roosevelt appointed a special board to investigate the possibility of building dams north of Augusta on the Savannah River for both flood control and power production.[ii] It seemed that modern technology could finally answer the questions that engineers from before the Civil War had been looking for.

Then Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. World War II put a halt to any involvement in these civil works projects and all efforts were centered on efforts to support the war. President Truman was determined to carry on FDR’s legacy of domestic development at the conclusion of the war. In 1944, Congress approved a comprehensive plan for eight dams to be built on the Savannah River, each requiring their own authorization[iii]. In August of 1946, the first Savannah River project under the Flood Control Act began. Twenty-two miles north of Augusta, a site was chosen to erect the Clarks Hill Dam and Reservoir (now called Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake). While this was in the works, Congress heard testimony and prepared for a second dam to be built.

On May 17, 1950, Congress approved the Flood Control Act of 1950 which authorized a study of another dam on the Savannah River near Hartwell, Georgia. By December, Albert Webb and a crew of four men arrived to begin surveys to determine the exact location of the dam[iv]. Unlike the Clarks Hill project, this dam was expected to inundate a greater area of land and stretch far up the Savannah, Seneca, and Tugaloo rivers. Therefore, in January of the following year, Lester Ackerman arrived with an eight-man team to conduct topographical surveys of the lands surrounding the Savannah River. Their initiatives required them to conduct borings into the ground to analyze the granite rock bed that would essentially support the reservoir. It did not take long for people to realize that the reservoir was going to be large, and that many of them were going to lose some or all of their property. Nobody realized this more than the South Carolina state agriculture institution: Clemson College.

[i] Smith, Russell. Lake Hartwell: The Great Lake of the South. Townville, SC: Backseat Publishing, 2007. Page 9.

[ii] Barber, Henry E., and Allen R. Gann. A History of the Savannah District 1829-1989. Savannah, GA: Savannah District United States Army Corps of Engineers, 1989. Page 420.

[iii] Kernodle, Margaret, “Realization of Hartwell Dam Nearer as Major Step Taken,” Anderson Independent, July 2, 1949, Clemson University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. 

[iv]“Engineers Move Along Rapidly at Dam Site,” Anderson Independent, January 11, 1951, Anderson County Library Local History and Genealogy Archives.

What’s Next for the Valley?