Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Ocoee River’s National Historic Sites

So what type of structures worthy of listing in the National Register of Historic Places could be found along a relatively small river in southeastern Tennessee?  It turns out that there are 2 dams along the Ocoee, both operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, that have achieved historical status.

Both NRHP dams are located in Polk County Tennessee and while they produce energy, they also provide a source for family fun as well as for one of the most challenging of sports…
The 3 Ocoee River dams are numbered sequentially… This is Ocoee Dam #2.  It was completed in 1913…meaning that it will be 100 years old this coming year.  This structure is a rock-filled crib-type dam that is only 30’ high and 450’ long.  While the structure itself is relatively unimpressive, this is a very pretty setting with a small lake or reservoir behind the dam. 

Dam #3 is upstream from this dam…but Dam #3 is relatively new, having been completed in 1942, and it’s not readily accessible to the casual passersby.   Both Ocoee Dams #2 and #3 utilize East Tennessee’s mountainous terrain to maximize power production.  The powerhouses for these 2 dams are located miles downstream from the actual dams.  Water flows from Ocoee #2 to its powerhouse via a wooden flume and from Ocoee #3 to its power house via a tunnel.  Both the flume and tunnel remain relatively level from the dam until they reach their respective powerhouses.
This is the view downstream from Dam #2.  The flume carrying the water for the powerhouse is hidden in the woods on the ridge to the left. 

With the rapid industrial growth of Chattanooga in the late 19th and early 20th century, there was an increased demand for electricity…and this fast flowing river located roughly 30 miles east of the city was considered a prime candidate for hydroelectric power.  The Eastern Tennessee Power Company was created in 1910 and it was responsible for building these first 2 dams.  Via a Supreme Court decision in 1939, the company was forced to sell its interests to the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Laurie took this photo just above the Powerhouse for Ocoee Dam #2.  This is obviously the spillway for the water coming down the flume from Dam#2.  If the plant is generating power, much of this water would continue on to the tubes at the end of the flume and then drop down to the turbines.

The Toccoa (Georgia)/Ocoee River (Tennessee) is actually a single 93-mile long river that flows into the Hiwassee River in Tennessee.  In 1976, the wooden flume was shut down and the river was allowed to run wild while repairs were being made.  This attracted quite a bit of attention as white water boaters flocked to the river for its 5 miles of continuous whitewater rapids.  When the repairs were completed, the US Congress forced TVA to schedule 116 days of whitewater release per year on the middle Ocoee River. 
The Ocoee has been called the birthplace of freestyle kayaking and the river was the site of the one-mile Olympic whitewater course for Atlanta Georgia’s 1996 Summer Olympic Games.  This is the only time that a natural river has been used for an Olympic whitewater slalom event.
This is the Powerhouse for Ocoee River Dam#2.  The water drops 250’ through the large conduits at the upper left of the picture, driving the turbines and producing electricity in the powerhouse. 

A sizable recreational rafting and kayaking business has sprung up along the Ocoee.  The action on the river coincides with the scheduled release of water from dams #2 and #3.  Obviously, these water releases are very expensive as electricity cannot be generated during these release periods… If you’re into whitewater kayaking and/or rafting, you can view the water release schedule at  To check out some of the hazards for rafters and kayakers along the river, go to  Challenges include such rapids/hazards as “Broken Nose”, “Double Suck”, “Double Trouble”, “Flipper”, “Table Saw”, “Witches Hole” and “Hell Hole”.  It sounds like lots of ‘fun’ doesn’t it!
This stretch of the Ocoee is more our style…easy going and beautiful too.  This is the Parksville Reservoir/Ocoee Lake above Ocoee Dam #1.  It stretches along the Ocoee Scenic Byway (US Hwy. 64) for several miles.  The lake is small by TVA standards, with ‘only’ 109 miles of shoreline.  Along US 64, the lake is lined with places to put your boat in and there are several picnic areas and beaches for public use.  The lake is not built up and ‘touristy’ as it is part of the Cherokee National Forest… This is a very pretty area.
This is a view of Ocoee Dam #1 from below the dam looking upstream.  This is a much different structure than is Dam #2.  Work on this dam began in late 1910 and it was completed in late December 1911.  By January 27, 1912, electricity was flowing into Chattanooga… At almost 101 years of age, this is the oldest dam in operation in the entire Tennessee Valley Authority System.
Ocoee River Dam #1 is 135’ high and it stretches 840’ across the river gorge.  Ocoee Lake covers an area of 1,930 acres.  Together these 3 Ocoee River Dams only generate about 67,000 kilowatts of electricity.  This compares to 155,600 kilowatts produced by the Fort Loudoun Dam near Lenoir City Tennessee…

The Ocoee River is one of the most popular whitewater rivers in the world, attracting over a quarter-million visitors a year.  The river drops 1,370 feet from its source in the southern Appalachian Mountains of Georgia to its mouth where it joins the Hiwassee River in Polk County Tennessee. 
Laurie and I would highly recommend this scenic drive… The Ocoee Scenic Byway is indeed, very scenic.  The combination of water, forest, cliffs, the river gorge, rocks, etc. add up to a series of beautiful constantly changing views.  The Byway itself is 26 miles long.  It follows US 64, which intersects US Hwy. 411 in Polk County and then runs east along the Ocoee River toward Ducktown Tennessee.  For more on the Ocoee Scenic Byway, just go to  The only cautionary note is that we don't know how crowded this byway is on a weekend when water is being released for the rafting and kayaking crowd...
Just click on any of Laurie’s photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for coming along with us on this drive along the back roads of America!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. I saw your name on Sam’s My Carolina Kitchen and on your profile that you like postcards. I have been a collector of vintage postcards since a wee child. If you go on my blog and click on Postcards on the right side under Categories you will see quite a selection. We live near Kennesaw, Georgia and like to drive up to Chattanooga several times a year, so I’ll keep your drive in mind. I also saw that you gave some good recipes – I don’t make a very good chili, so I’ll try yours but will have to half it for just my husband and me.

  2. Thanks for coming to my blog. I could not figure out what you mentioned about the cat, so I looked back and forth on my post – no cat there. Then I saw my little picture on the side – that is my cat Cody which I am holding next to my face, so my hair is behind the cat - same color though. I had a laugh at that!

  3. what a beautiful drive!..just gorgeous! thanks again for the history lesson.

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