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More WataugaLakeMagazine articles:

The Butler Museum

Learn how and why Watauga Lake was formed and how the citizens of "Old Butler" Tennessee were changed forever. . . .

A Kayaker's View

See Watauga Lake up-close from a Kayak

Watauga Lake Triathlon

Swim over 1,000 yards in a deep lake, race in your bike over 21 miles through the mountains, THEN... run 5 miles ...


The Appalachian Trail skirts Watauga Lake and crosses it at the Dam ...

Blue Hole Falls

Just a short drive from the lake, near Elizabethton, Blue Hole Falls is a beautiful set of waterfalls ...

Pioneer Landing

Learn more about the easternmost marina on Watauga Lake ...

Watauga Dam

The dam that creates Watauga Lake ...

Jonesborough TN

Home of the International Storytelling Festival ...

Iron Mountain Inn

See this beautiful lodge with breathtaking views ...

Rat Branch Boat Ramp

This is the westernmost boat ramp on the lake ...

Watauga Point

This beautiful park is great for picnics, boating and swimming ...

The Carter Mansion

Where Tennessee history started. Learn about the Carter family ...

Doe River Gorge

See the beautiful gorge and ride the rails where the Tweetsie Train traveled ...

Gray Fossil Site

A spectacular fossil site discovered not long ago ...

Colonel Roderick Butler

Learn about the man for whom the town of Butler was named ...

Sugar Hollow Retreat

See this spectacular mountain retreat ...

Fish Springs Marina

This beautifully situated marina offers many services to lake boaters ...

Part 1: Douglas Lake & Dam vs. Watauga Lake & Dam

The Douglas Dam on Douglas Lake Tennessee
The Douglas Dam May 2010
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All photos and illustrations by Pat Johns ©2010
All Rights Reserved
See links to article references at the end of the article.
June 2010

Click here to go to Part II: Dandridge Tennessee . . .

". . .Work on Douglas Dam began in February 1942 and was completed on a crash schedule in just 12 months and 17 days. The construction of Douglas set a world record for projects of equivalent size. . . "
- TVA website (see link below)

TVA Douglas Dam

Although work began on the Douglas Dam and the Watauga Dam in the same year, 1942, the processes which led to their completions and the impact on the local towns were dramatically different. One was needed urgently, the other could be delayed. One town was saved and another had to be torn down and moved. And, with both, the decisions were made in conjunction with the country's strategy to win World War II.

The French Broad River, the largest tributary of the Tennessee River, had been identified early on by the TVA as a potential source of hydroelectric power for the TVA system. However, because the dam and resulting lake would flood thousands of acres of rich farm land and hurt the local canning industry, other projects were given higher priorities.

America's entry into World War II changed all of that. As factories were built or converted to products to support the war, the need for electricity grew. In particular, Alcoa Aluminum's new North Plant south of Knoxville, needed significantly more electricity to fuel its increased production:

TVA Douglas Dam Overlook
"World War II proved immensely profitable for ALCOA, as aluminum was needed for aircraft construction. Production increased 600% during the war, and the company's Alcoa operations workforce swelled to 12,000. In the early 1940s, the company built its North Plant, which at the time of its completion was the world's largest plant under a single roof."

~ (see link below)
Douglas Lake Marina

With those circumstances the fates of both the Watauga Dam and Douglas Dam projects were sealed. The kilowatt output of the Douglas Dam project would far exceed that of the Watauga Dam project so the design and building of Watauga Dam (and the South Holston Dam) were put on hold and resources were diverted west to the Douglas Dam project.

Adding to the urgent need for the Douglas Dam's hydroelectric power was the Manhattan Project work in nearby Oak Ridge Tennessee. The Manhattan Project was the codename for the project to develop the first atomic bomb.

Fishermen on Douglas Lake
"Beginning in late 1942, the United States Army Corps of Engineers began acquiring more than 60,000 acres (240 kmē) for the CEW (Clinton Engineering Works ) under authority of the Corps' Manhattan Engineer District (MED). The K-25, S-50, and Y-12 plants were each built in Oak Ridge to separate the fissile isotope uranium-235 from natural uranium, which consists almost entirely of the isotope uranium-238."
~ - Oak Ridge Tennessee (see link below)
The Mountain Harbor Inn on Douglas Lake

The Douglas Dam was completed 1 year and 17 days after the project began, the fastest of any project of its kind in the world at that time. There were 2 primary reasons for this. The first was the focus of so many resources on the project from the beginning and the second was that nearby Cherokee dam had just been completed and the Douglas Dam was built with the same plans with some modifications.

The Douglas Dam created Douglas Lake which did cover many acres of rich farmland and created a lake much larger than Watauga Lake. Some comparisons:

Watauga Point on Watauga Lake
Specification Watauga Lake Douglas Lake
Generating Capacity 57,600 KW 115,000 KW
Source Rivers Watauga & Elk Rivers
Roan Creek
French Broad
Surface Area 6,430 acres 30,400 acres
Length of Lake 16.3 miles 43.1 miles
Shoreline approx. 104 miles approx. 555 miles
% Shoreline Privately owned Less than half Most
Ave. Annual Water
Level Fluctuation
10 - 20 feet 50 - 60 feet
Time of Completion Over 6 years 1 year, 17 days
The Douglas Dam

Those familiar with the story of Watauga Lake know that World War II delayed the inevitable. Soldiers in the Butler Tennessee area left to fight in the war. While many soldiers throughout the country who returned from the war moved away from their rural communities and went off to college or to larger cities to work, Butler's returning soldiers had no choice. Some helped build the dam and many watched and helped with the dismantling and moving of Butler to its new location.

However, the Douglas Dam project was also scheduled to flood a town with rich history just like Butler. But that town, Dandridge, Tennessee received a reprieve, in part because of its name . . . .

Click here to go to Part II: Dandridge Tennessee . . .


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