Tennessean Article

The Tennessean, "Learn Nashville," by George Zepp Saturday, 12/29/07:

Hendersonville, fifty years ago this year the Old Hickory Dam began power production, but its hydroelectric generators are only a small part of the story. Thousands of acres of rich farmland slowly gave way the year before, in 1956, to a water wonderland. Politicians, pleasure boaters, fishing enthusiasts, swimmers, campers — even a huge influx of migrating ducks — all gave thanks.

Damming the Cumberland River in that spot, about two miles below the Old Hickory community and a half mile from Mansker's Creek in Hadley's Bend, wasn't a smooth process.

Federal legislators from other states fought the incremental funding year after year. Brief construction workers' strikes arose. Those and other factors delayed the project by about two years.

In the end, when the giant dam's gates were first closed starting in 1954 and the river began to back up, Nashvillians and others marveled at the sight of the new lake.

"I used to think that everything changed but the river, but now I've got to change my mind about that," Hendersonville's John Shutt, 84, told a reporter in 1957. Shutt's 42-year career with the dam-building U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and his sale to the government of 26 acres of land that went underwater, gave him a unique viewpoint.

The project was authorized by the federal government in 1946. Construction began in 1952 and was largely completed by 1956, minus the four generating units. It cost nearly $50 million.

Tennessee's then-U.S. senators, Albert Gore and Estes Kefauver, its U.S representatives, J. Percy Priest (whose name now graces another area dam) and Joe L. Evins — even the Donelson Lions Club and the Madison Chamber of Commerce — all had lobbied for the project's federal funding to continue.

Most landowners of the 135 parcels to be flooded sold for appraised values, but a few fought for more. A jury gave one $69,200 for a 341-acre tract that was part of a 745-acre farm. The award was the same as the government estimate, but the owner won another $8,000 for severance damage.

When the dam's lock held a "grand opening" to lift little pleasure boats in September 1956, an estimated 10,000 people jammed the dam to see it. The total 1957 Old Hickory visitor count of 2.3 million set a record for then-existing Cumberland River lakes. The water crested at 445 feet above sea level on Jan. 3 that year.

In recent years the 56 boat ramps and 1,800 marina slips welcome visits from 1.3 million swimmers, 2.8 million boaters and 2.5 million fishermen, plus almost 4.4 million sightseers, according to 1999 figures from the Corps of Engineers, which governs Old Hickory. The Corps estimates visitor spending brings in $180.5 million to support more than 4,500 jobs in nearby areas.