Copyright © 2012 Prospect Communications
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In the days before the Tennessee Valley Authority powered electric life in Southern Tennessee and North Alabama, a concrete structure on Shoal Creek gave Lawrenceburg residents their first taste of commercial electricity.
Constructed in the early 1900’s, the “Old Dam” provided power to just a few square miles of Lawrenceburg. The power generated here gave an advantage for turn-of-the-century industry to locate to the city located on the banks of Shoal Creek.
The structure, referred to as the old dam because of a newer Shoal Creek dam built in the 1910’s, gave Lawrenceburg electric lights for city streets, powered homes for those who could afford the service, and helped a community set itself apart from the rest of the area by offering electricity.
The dam, located in the Horseshoe Bend of Shoal Creek, was a uniquely designed structure. The water retaining wall, pictured above, is located on the eastern side of a bluff while powerhouse, left, is located on the western side. Water from Shoal Creek, flowing north at the bend, was fed into a man-made tunnel that connected to the powerhouse. The flow of water would then be routed back to the southern flow of the creek after the passing though turbines in the facility.
The Old Dam remained in operation, in conjunction with a larger facility built later at Raven Bluff on Shoal Creek, until the 1930’s when the TVA’s dams on the Tennessee River opened as part of the “New Deal”. From that time on the structure was largely forgotten, locked up, and written away in local history books... until now.
The bend on Shoal Creek made this a prime site for the dam. As Shoal Creek winds through the southern half of the city it makes a series of sharp curves to form two peninsulas. The creek flows back north before making an abrupt turn south to flow into the Tennessee River. It is at this site, named “Horseshoe” because of its unusual shape, a decline in elevation occurs allowing a natural increase in the water’s speed that was needed in order to turn the early turbines.
Our complete series of photos can be seen to the left. Below are the remains of the old power feed lines.
This site helped to build an industrial economy for Lawrenceburg in the early 20th Century. The Old Shoal Creek Dam, and others like it in Maury and Wayne Counties, served its purpose well and gave a generation the first chance at a service that today we take for granted.
As the talk of local green power begins to move our way there may be hope yet for this old dam to one day be rebuilt to power the future. For now it remains a hidden legend that helped to build the very foundation for the Lawrenceburg we all know today. -Ben Luna, WLX News
Today what remains of the concrete dam is clearly visible from the new “Shoal Cove Subdivision” while the old powerhouse can be seen in winter months from a vantage point on Glenn Springs Road. Both the dam and the powerhouse remain on city owned property that is gated for safety concerns.
WLX recently paid a visit to the old powerhouse as part of the “Local Legends” series. We found the site to be in surprisingly good condition although an earthen bank of the dam washed away in the 1998 Flood. The powerhouse, seen right, still contains the remains of the original turbines. Water still flows through the man-made tunnel to feed the long gone generators.
The structure of the powerhouse is fairly well preserved considering no upkeep has been performed on the facility in nearly 75 years. Around six inches of water can be found on the floor of the once modern room while trash and debris have pilled up due to the continuous flow of water into the building.