The Project Begins

January 1959.png

This photgraph from January of 1959 shows a cofferdam that allowed for construction workers and engineers to build the structure of Hartwell Dam in a dry area, but in the middle of the Savannah River. 

After two major setbacks, World War II and Clemson College, all the details of the project had been decided on and the House Public Works Committee appropriated the necessary funds to begin building the dam. In October of 1954, admits the negotiations with Clemson, nearly one-million dollars had been spend preparing for and planning the project. It was reported that there was a good supply of dependable labor, the climate was pristine for the working conditions, the highway and railway infrastructure was sufficient for moving supplies, and that sound industrial and agricultural opportunities were on the horizon.[i] There was a sense of patriotism from those that watched and read about the project. Being that the Cold War was warming up, some people felt it was their duty as American citizens to support a cause that would provide stability and electricity to a facility downstream that made refined plutonium for nuclear bombs. Indeed, the project was intended for flood control and hydropower, but as history reminds us the main focus of the time was building-up a nuclear arsenal. It just so happened that a dam could encompass all of these needs. First, a series of cofferdams were built so that the water from the river could be systematically removed into a series of spillways.[ii] Once this was completed, the bones of the dam could be built. On August 4, 1958, eight years and three months after Albert Webb first arrived to survey the sight, the first pieces of concrete were poured at 6:45 that evening.  Rumor has it that a man died sometime during the dam’s construction and that his body was cemented into the structure. The Army Core of Engineers Website reads, “As construction of the dam got under way, the specifications changed from time to time. The length of the concrete portions of the structure was reduced to 1,900 feet, the roadway was removed from atop the dam and made to cross the river just below the dam site, the size of the tainter gates was increased from 26 feet by 40 feet to 35.5 feet by 40 feet, and the powerhouse was relocated from the South Carolina to the Georgia side of the river. Periodically, construction costs were revised upward to a final figure of almost $90 million.”[iii]

[i]The Hartwell Dam, 1954 Progress Report, Authorized by Congress 1950, $965,000 Appropriated to Date for Planning,” Anderson Independent, October 6, 1954, Clemson University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives.

[ii] Smith, Russell. Lake Hartwell: The Great Lake of the South. Townville, SC: Backseat Publishing, 2007. Pages 6-9.