From Flood Control to Hydropower: Unveiling the Legacy of Dale Hollow Lake and Dam

Contractors completed the flood control project in 1943 but suspended the construction of the powerhouse. In July 1946, construction of the powerhouse resumed, and Dale Hollow Dam became the first of nine U.S. Corps of Engineers power plant erected within the Cumberland River basin.

Stanley Carter, Dale Hollow power plant superintendent and Steven D. Crawford, journeyman electrician stand on the deck overlooking the turbine units on July 17, 2023. (USACE photo by Heather King)
Stanley Carter, Dale Hollow power plant superintendent and Steven D. Crawford, journeyman electrician stand on the deck overlooking the turbine units on July 17, 2023. (USACE photo by Heather King)

Stanley Carter, power plant superintendent, described the planning of Dale Hollow Dam and the subsequent dams as a “holistic” approach to taming the Cumberland River system. “The Corps created each of the dam sites to work in harmony with each other,” he explained, pointing out the distinct roles played by non-river run plants like Dale Hollow, Wolf Creek, Laurel River, Center Hill, and J. Percy Priest, which primarily served as storage facilities for flood control. In contrast, the river run plants along the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers focused on navigation as their primary mission, with minimal water storage capacity.

From 1948 to 1953, contractors added three Francis power-generating turbine units to the power plant. Each unit can produce 16-18 megawatts of power. Together, the turbines generate up to 54 megawatts of power, enough to supply the needs of a town with approximately 45,000 people.

Dale Hollow Dam in Celina, Tenn., May 7, 2011. (USACE photo by Leon Roberts)
Dale Hollow Dam in Celina, Tenn., May 7, 2011. (USACE photo by Leon Roberts)

For the town of Celina, with a population of 1,400, that’s enough power to keep the entire town powered in the event of a complete or partial energy loss.

The powerplant does more than generate power. Since hydropower is an immediate source of energy, hydropower turbines work as backup generators. Dale Hollow’s turbines stabilize the 69-kilovolt electrical grid system it connects to, providing a reliable and steady electricity source during increased demand or emergencies. By increasing the voltage on the turbine units, the voltage on the entire electrical grid system receives a boost.

“We’re like the Red Roof Inn. We keep the lights on,” said Steven Crawford, journeyman electrician.

To keep the lights on, Carter relies on a strong, highly competent, and professional team to maintain the aging equipment. The team includes Office Attendant Amanda Matheny, Senior Electrician Paul Drinkard, Journeyman Electricians Waylon Hackett, Steve Crawford, Stanley Theisen, Senior Mechanic Brian Perry, Journeyman Mechanics Kyle Cross, Josh Marcum, Chris Boone, and Maintenance Workers Jeremy Bilbrey and Elijah Garrett.

Mechanics and electricians must complete a rigorous four-year training program in addition to the education they receive before coming to the Corps.

Carter described the training program as a testament to the field’s commitment to safety. “We have a great responsibility to intimately know every aspect of our job and the equipment so we can operate in a safe environment while ensuring the safety of those around us.”

The highly skilled maintenance staff work hard to keep the equipment operating at the same efficiency it did 80 years ago but go above and beyond. “They’re innovative thinkers who find creative ways to do more with less,” said Crawford.

At the power plant, creativity and innovation are on display. Garrett and Bilbrey have spent time applying fresh and updated coats of paint around the plant, giving it that ‘new plant’ glow. Marcum, a multi-talented individual, inspires a sense of pride and professionalism within the plant through his work. He has created custom light features projecting the ‘Essayons’ logo and a wood-framed elevator car shaft with the Corps Castle.

Custom “Essayons” light fixtures created by Josh Marcum, senior qualified journeyman mechanic, are situated throughout Dale Hollow power plant. (USACE photo by Leon Roberts)
Custom “Essayons” light fixtures created by Josh Marcum, senior qualified journeyman mechanic, are situated throughout Dale Hollow power plant. (USACE photo by Leon Roberts)

Creativity and innovative problem-solving are a theme at Dale Hollow. For 80 years, the generator turbine floor has been without a restroom. Maintenance workers have had to traverse the plant to clean themselves up after a job or utilize the bathroom. Additionally, access to drainage from a toilet was non-existent. Employees found an area on the turbine floor where they could create a washroom and install a toilet that can pump drainage to the existing sewer and assist in pumping the sink drain water to the sewer. When it’s finished, employees will be able to use the sink for clean up and direct the wastewater to an appropriate method to be treated.

Carter described how mechanics and electricians recently rehabilitated the drive component of the tail deck crane for a fraction of the cost and now have another skillset. “Dale Hollow has become a reliable source of sustainability and reliability due to the professionalism of these people,” said Carter.

Thanks in part to the pioneering efforts of Dale Hollow Dam and the people who keep it running, the Cumberland River Basin has been a steadfast provider of sustainable power to Tennessee and Kentucky for the past 80 years and will continue to provide power well into the future.

The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.

Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest Nashville District employment and contracting opportunities at https://www.linkedin.com/company/u-s-army-corps-of-engineers-nashville-district.

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