Friday, November 10, 2006

Lake Martin

Yesterday afternoon we went to Horseshoe Bend National Military Park and I saw this book in the museum gift shop. We love the lake, so I decided to buy the book. Before we left the park, I began reading it (Sarah was driving and the park's speed limit is 15 mph, so I felt safe). The author covers the history of Lake Martin and the surrounding area from before the lake's creation to the present. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the interesting people involved in building the dam at Cherokee Bluffs, and about the history of the area from 1540, when Hernando de Soto and his men marched across Alabama, to the present day BASSMASTERs and water wars with Georgia. Since the 1960's my family has enjoyed Lake Martin, and there were lots of stories I'd heard - some of which were confirmed as true in this book. For instance, several airplanes crashed and sank in the lake, and one WWII bomber went unrecovered - and unconfirmed as having sunk in the lake - until the 1990's when one man who'd heard the rumors decided to use his depth finder and a map of the area of the lake rumored to hold the sunken aircraft. He found it buried under 6 feet of mud beneath water 50 feet deep.

The main history features the work of Thomas Wesley Martin who brought about both the dam and the lake, and who served as president of Alabama Power company from 1920 to 1949. From the descriptions of him and the work he did, he appears to have been a modest gentleman, intent on bringing to Alabama a great hydroelectric power system. He got General William C. Gorgas (the man who figured out how to stop the spread of malaria and yellow fever, thus making the construction of the Panama Canal possible) to testify that that the power company wasn't liable for illnesses in the reservoir area of another dam the power company built, thus clearing the legal ground for the construction of the dam to move forward, and he had to be very patient because it was years in the making from the planning, to procuring the land, to getting all the legal hurdles completely cleared - and to clear the land, to building the dam, to seeing the lake basin fill. He appears to have been a pretty good lawyer and one with a vision and a goal that provided a better life for a lot of people in this area. The amazing work of the various engineers involved in making the dam is also a wonder to read. They built 1/100th scale models to aid them in designing the dam and to figure out any problems with how the water would flow or flood. Those models made it possible for them to figure out how to avoid problems with the flood water in the river bed.

All my life I've heard boasts about the cleanliness of Lake Martin's water, and now I know that the purity of the water is partially due to the foresight of Mr. Martin and others at the Alabama Power Company. They decided to go above and beyond the requirements of the Federal Water Power Act of 1920. They stripped all trees and brush from the area of the future lake so that the water wouldn't become fouled with decaying matter. The power company assessed the timber on the land that would be covered, and saw that a lot of the wood was virgin timber or second-growth trees old enough to be of use as lumber. They didn't waste that wood, but set up sawmills in the area of the timber and sawed the trees into wood, which was then used in the building of the dam, among other things. Some trees too large for use were chained to the ground, and some in later years broke their ties or chains and floated to the surface of the lake. When I was a child, I met a man who remembered the clearing of the lake basin. I can't remember if he was the one who did it, or if it was his father, but he said they used mules to drag out the cut trees.

This book is probably only of interest to someone who loves Lake Martin, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it last night.



Blogger Tammy said...

Wow...that's really interesting! I love learning about things like that. And when it's a place you've been going to for years, it's even better.
Thanks for sharing!

10:24 AM  
Blogger JFC said...

off topic comment:

I noticed your listing of John Rutter's music ...

He came to the college where I was (1982, I believe) and led our choirs, I think it was in our Christmas concert. I particularly remember doing his arrangement of Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming. Good stuff, indeed.


8:24 PM  
Blogger Kathryn Judson said...

I enjoy local history books and books about big projects. I also wasn't familiar with the "Making of America" series. Thanks for the heads up. I've linked.

9:21 PM  

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