The Heritage of Daniel Haston


The Caney Fork of the Cumberland
Early Dams - Page 35
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Early Dams on The Caney Fork and Tributaries

Today we think of dams built for navigation, flood control, generation of power, fish ponds and recreation.  The first dams built on the small streams were not built by the Indians or the white man but by the beavers as housing projects.  They felled the trees and built their homes in or under the dams and they provided under water entrances for protection.

The second type of construction was the fish-traps which was a form of diversion dam built by the early settlers.  They provide a quick and easy way to catch fish.

Diversion dams of loose rock were built to improve conditions at some fords and at time to increase the flow of water around one side of an island to improve navigation.

The first dams to grind the farmers corn and wheat and other small mills were of many types.  Rock walls, with or without mortar, or timbers bolted to the river bed rock were used to divert the stream flow into a small flume or canal which carried the water to an overshot or undershot type of water wheel.  This was a simple type of construction as a falls in the stream.  The shaft of the water wheel might be direct-connected to the grinder or other machine or connected by a leather or rope belt.

Some dams were constructed of log pens filled with rock and the upstream side faced with wood planks.  Others were constructed entirely of wood.  Timbers were first fastened to the river bed rock with pins.  The timber frame for the dam was securely attached to the anchor timbers and the upstream face and top was sealed with wood planks.

A few rock dams were built using dressed blocks of stone with or without mortar in the joints.  The original dam at the Bearden Mill on the Elk River near Fayettville was built without mortar and had very little leakage because of the care taken in fitting the blocks of stone.  Some of the blocks were three to four feet square.

Concrete dams were not built in the area until the 20th century.  The dam and canal for the second hydroelectric plant on the Calfkiller near Sparta was probably the first in the upper Caney Fork area.

The dam at the McMinnville hydroelectric plant was a regular Duke's Mixture as it was a little of everything.  The original dam at that site was built of a wood frame, anchored to the bed rock with iron pins, filled with rock and the top and upstream side faced with wood plank.   The end of the dam was tied to a railroad pier with a stone wall.  Later concrete was poured over the wood structure.  Still later (1929) part of the dam was washed out and replaced with a concrete gravity type dam.

The story is told that Mr. Walling, one time owner of the property, was having trouble with leakage.  He understood that concrete could be used to seal off the leaks .  He decided that if concrete was a good pure cement would be better.  He ordered two cars of cement, had the Railroad stop them on the bridge just above the dam, and then had a crew open the sacks and drop the cement into the river.  He figured that the current would carry the cement into the crevices and stop the leaks.  The cement was carried into the open passages in the dam and right on down the river.

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