Our Dam Trip this day would take us to one of the most unusual destinations that we have ventured to thus far.
Like the situation down at Muscle Shoals that I wrote about on an earlier trip; the Tennessee River was a extremely dangerous and unpredictable stretch of river. Whereas the main dangers in the Muscle Shoals area were rocks and rapids; the most notorious dangers in this area were the violent whirlpools that were known to open up with little warning.
The most famous of these whirlpools was named “The Suck” and the local Indian lore held that anyone being caught too close to this whirlpool when it appeared would risk having their souls drugs down through the whirlpool.
And as with many Indian related stories down in the South; this particular story also held that the area around what is now known as Haletown where the Whirlpools would appear had been the site of an Indian burial ground.
And we all know what that means, right?
Can you say “cursed” boys and girls?
In 1905, work began on the Dam by a private company who intended to build the dam and then sell the electricity it would generate to the local communities; including Chattanooga.
The size of the construction quickly swelled; and the project would become one of the largest endeavors of its kind within the United States. Not only was it one of the very first multipurpose dams built in the US, but it also was one of the very first to be built across an actually navigable channel. When completed, the dam stood over 110 feet high and over 2,300 feet long. The dam’s lock featured a 41 foot tall lift that was the highest of its kind in the world at the time it was built.
In order to support the building of the Dam; two completely new communities about two miles apart were set up to house the 5,000 workers and provide for their staples and food needs: Guild and Ladds. Guild was originally named after one of the two men who built the dam, Josephus Conn Guild – but is now known as Haletown; whereas Ladds still remains under the same name.
Almost immediately, the legends began. Numerous deaths on the property were blamed on the Indian curse before the main powerhouse was even finished. Overall, a series of setbacks and unexpected events would delay the completion of the dam from 1909 until 1913.
It wasn’t long until even bigger problems began to surface with the dam. Almost as soon as the dam was completed, it began to leak. It turns out that the dam was built over limestone, and that large quantities of water were seeping out underneath and around the dam.
In 1919, engineers pumped hot asphalt into the foundation of the dam in an attempt to stop the leaks once and for all.
They believed they had solved the problem; but by 1931 it was determined that the dam was still leaking at the alarming rate of 1,000 cubic feet per second!
Short term work was done to attempt to control the degree of flooding; but most matters would take a back seat to the legal wrangling that occurred in the late 1930s as the new TVA was able to wrest control of the dam from its original owner as part of the TVA Act of 1933.
With the new owners in place; work once again proceeded to try to stop the leaks. More large scale construction took place and by 1949 the dam’s generating capacity was almost 100,000 megawatts.
But the legend wasn’t done with Hales Bar. Tests in the 1950s indicated that even with the repairs; the rate of leaking was now about 2,000 cubic feet per second and that the dam had a high possibility for future failure.
In the early 1960s, the TVA looked at pouring more money into the repairs. And even though it had been allocated a large budget to do so, they finally decided it would be best to cut their losses at Hales Bar and build a new dam about 6 miles south. That dam would end up being the Nickajack Dam.
On December 14, 1967; the Nickajack Dam went into operation. They very next day, Hales Bar was decommissioned and had been dismantled by September of the following year. All that remains today of the Dam is the structure seen at the top of this article.
Now the Dam is actually a marina; and features a strong local economy built around the recreation afforded in the area.
And that Indian curse? Well, no more major problems have been reported in the area. But the old Powerhouse and Dam remains a hotbed of paranormal activity according to the locals. It’s even been featured on two national television shows.
All told, the trip was about 110 miles each way from our home in Nashville. The weather was amongst the best we have ever ridden in. My wife and I have even decided to return to the Hales Bar Dam and stay in one of the floating cabins that the marina rents out.