Harbor Island Yacht Club


Old Hickory, Tennessee
 























































The Tennessean, "Learn Nashville," by George Zepp Saturday, 12/29/07 Old Hickory Lake rose from farmland 50 years ago Where can I learn the history of Old Hickory Lake? — John Fisher,

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.


Water rushes through the spillway of Old Hickory Dam in January 1955. A temporary coffer dam holds it back from the area where the dam's generating plant was to be built. (JACK CORN / FILE / The Tennessean)


A 1957 aerial photo places the Old Hickory Dam in relation to Nashville and Gallatin. The 14,000-foot-high view makes clear the many Cumberland River bends. File / The Tennessean


On Sept. 20, 1956, the dam was beginning to flood vast areas behind it. Dotted lines were added to show where the water would spread. Joe Rudis/ File / The Tennessean


Old Hickory Lake takes shape behind the dam on Sept. 22, 1956, flooding bottom land where farm structures once stood. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sold hay off the fields and even sold farm buildings for salvage before the flooding. Joe Rudis/ File/ The Tennessean