Looking Back: Building Dix Dam

April 04, 2004|BRENDA S. EDWARDS

BURGIN - Dix Dam was the largest rock-filled dam in the nation when it was built in the 1920s.

"The dam will be about 90 feet high and if it ever breaks loose the Johnstown flood will go down in history as a small affair in comparison to this one," according to a news article.

The 700-feet wide and 235-feet high dam project was estimated to cost $3 million when ground was broken in 1912, but by the time the job was finished in 1925, the price had jumped to more that $5 million.

The dam was built across Dix River at Kennedy's Mill, according to an article in The Advocate. Louis B. Herrington, of Richmond was a leader in securing funds for the project. Herrington represented Madison County in the state House of Representatives and later became affiliated with Kentucky Utilities Co.


In 1921, Herrington, then vice president of the KU and president of Dix River Power Co., had worked with the project since 1910 purchasing and obtaining options on 25 miles of cliff land along the river. It was estimated that 30,000 kilowatts would be obtained at the hydro-electric plant that would furnish electricity throughout Central Kentucky.

The dam was to form a lake 25 miles long and a quarter of a mile wide at the widest point. By the end of construction, it had grown to 36 miles.

The work did not go unnoticed by residents who lived near the construction site. It was loud, sometimes too loud, when blasting began.

Blast shot down 90,000 tons of rock

A blast in June 1924, shot down 90,000 tons of rock from the top of a 300-foot cliff on the Garrard County side of Dix River. It was estimated to be the largest single combustion ever seen, heard or felt in Kentucky. The 43 tons of powder used in the blast sent 60,000 tons of rock into the river bed. The rock was used as filler for the dam.

Another blast in August 1924 used 65,000 tons of dynamite to remove 55,000 cubic yards of rock.

In late 1924, it was estimated the dam would be finished by January 1925. At that time, the basin for the water extended 33 miles from the dam, with a 72-mile shoreline. The basin was 180 feet deep at the dam and power was enough to generate three turbines of 12,000 kilowatts each.

It took an enormous amount of supplies to build the project, and getting them to the site was not easy.

Two and half miles of switchback railroad track were constructed for use in building the dam. Nine locomotives and 60 cars were used during construction. More than 125,000 cubic feet of rock were required for the dam while 2 million cubic feet of lumber were used in the work. Most of the fill material of the dam was obtained from the spillway excavation, quarried out of solid rock.

An outlet for Dix River, carved through solid rock to make a 900-feet long and 28-feet in diameter opening, allowed the river to discharge below the dam.

Project ends in 1925

The 13-year project ended in the summer of 1925.

An article from April 1925 describes how wild animals were migrating in great numbers in every direction on both sides of the river in search of new homes when the lake began to fill with water. Also, Baldwin's Rock, a boulder noted for its great size, toppled into the lake. King's Mill, a historic ruin of the 18th century, slowly submerged as the water rose to form the lake.

Dix Dam officially was finished in August 1925.

"The monster water project on Dix River is now completed, with the exception of the landscape gardening. Workmen were cut down to a minimum," according to the local newspaper.

By December 1925, the dam and power plant were running at full speed. A newspaper article said the dam was 105 feet higher than Niagara Falls. Herrington Lake also had been stocked with fish.

In 1926, the Dix River power plant was assessed at $3.8 million, when the actual cost was $8 million. Reasons the cost ran over were a contractor went bankrupt, damages for overflowing land, and bridge and road reconstruction.

The E.W. Brown Generating Station near Burgin has been supplying electricity to Danville and the surrounding area since it began in 1925. Several updates have been made, and the dam wall has had many repairs.

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