Hydroelectric power has been generated from Wilbur Dam for 100 years

John Thompson • Mar 26, 2012 at 11:08 AM

ELIZABETHTON —The remote and mountainous section along the course of the Watauga River known as the Horseshoe may not seem to be a place where regionalism would be encouraged, but for more than 100 years the Horseshoe has been the scene of large-scale regional cooperation.

The first regional project at the Horseshoe was the joint effort by the Watauga Power Company and the Bristol Gas Company to build a hydroelectric dam on the Watauga. They conceived of the plan at a time when there were no other hydroelectric dams of any great size in the state.

One hundred years later, several utility districts in Carter County joined forces to take advantage of the pure water in the lake created by the dam. These utilities began building a water plant that can be made large enough to meet all of the county’s water needs for the foreseeable future.

It has been just over 100 years since the switches were thrown and hydroelectric power first surged through Wilbur Dam on the Watauga River.

Official records of the Tennessee Valley Authority indicate that Wilbur, then known as Horseshoe Dam, was the second dam in its system to begin generating electricity, with Ocoee Dam No. 1 as the oldest. But those TVA records indicate that Ocoee No. 1 was placed in service on Jan. 28, 1912.

Frank Merritt, in his book “Later History of Carter County,” cited newspaper stories which said on Saturday, Jan. 20, 1912, at 3:15 p.m. the first power from Horseshoe Dam to Bristol began.


Subscribers to either the print or online version of Johnson City Press have full access to our electronic edition. The complete text of this article begins on the front page of the Monday, March 26, edition.

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