Lawrenceburg No. 1 Hydroelectric Station, Lawrenceburg Tennessee

Date added: October 13, 2023 Categories: Tennessee Power Plant Hydroelectric Power
Dam, looking southeast (1989)

The Lawrenceburg No. 1 site is a local hydroelectric engineering project typical of the kind being constructed on Tennessee's smaller rivers in the early twentieth century. It was, in fact, the second such facility built in the state. Its engineering is remarkable in that it is conceptually similar in design to the first hydroelectric station in Tennessee, the now inundated Loop Plant near Winchester (1901), the massive Rock Island site (1917) in White County, and at the colossal Calderwood site (1930) in Blount County, all of which utilize a tunnel arrangement to direct water through a river bend to a powerhouse.

It was a municipally built, owned, and operated facility in a time when municipalities, reacting to a widely held distrust by the voting public concerning the destructive power of the monopoly of private enterprise, frequently opted for the alternative of public, rather than private, ownership of public utilities. Concern for efficient government took into account the usefulness of a plethora of professional private management methods and means, including such public utilities as urban transportation, sewage, and hydroelectric generation. In this way, local governments became responsible for providing electrical power to citizens as a part of a national reform movement. Lawrenceburg's hydroelectric site demonstrates one Tennessee city's participation in this progressive national trend.

The City of Lawrenceburg built two Pre-TVA hydroelectric plants on Shoal Creek. Lawrenceburg No. 1 was built in 1907 after a municipal election in 1905 approved the sale of municipal bonds to finance the project. Walter G. Kirkpatrick was the project engineer. Construction of the site began in 1905-06, at Horseshoe Bend on Shoal Creek. A dam was built and water was impounded and diverted across the Horseshoe Bend through a tunnel to the powerhouse on the other side and then returned to Shoal Creek. The major features of this site are a dam, power tunnel, penstocks, and powerhouse. The site is reached via secondary roads from Lawrenceburg and an unpaved farm road. The City of Lawrenceburg still owns the site which formerly supplied power to the town. No. 1 met the municipality's power needs until 1915 when Shoal Creek No. 2 site was built 1.8 miles further downstream. Both plants operated until the late thirties and early forties.

Site Description

The Lawrenceburg No. 1 (or Shoal Creek No. 1) Hydroelectric Station is located in Horseshoe Bend (so named for its sharp 180-degree turn) on Shoal Creek, in Lawrence County (population 18,611), about 1.8 miles southeast of the county seat, Lawrenceburg.

The Lawrenceburg No. 1 site is situated on a sharp bend in Shoal Creek in order to take advantage of a seventeen-foot fall between the dam and the powerhouse. Water, impounded behind the dam, was diverted across the bend through a tunnel and to the powerhouse on the other side, and returned to the creek via the powerhouse tailrace. Currently, the low flow of Shoal Creek is diverted through the tunnel and spills into the secluded and abandoned powerhouse.

The dam consists of a concrete spillway section and an earthen embankment non-overflow section. The trapezoidal spillway section is about 200 feet long and rests on bedrock. The structure's low-level sluice is closed with the wooden bulkhead that extends through this section. The concrete spillway section is in good condition. The earthen portion of the dam extends about 200 feet from a wing wall on the right (or eastern) side of the spillway and is heavily overgrown. The reservoir behind the dam extends about 1.6 miles upstream; the reservoir has no contemporary use.

The entrance to the power tunnel is about fifty feet upstream of the left (western) abutment of the dam. There is no visible material evidence of the original intake structure or trash racks. The tunnel is most likely unlined, and is estimated to be at least six feet in diameter. The tunnel is currently open and bifurcates about 200 feet below the intake access inlet; at this point the tunnels couple with two badly corroded penstocks which enter the powerhouse and conduct water to the turbines.

The powerhouse is a reinforced concrete structure positioned on a sheer bank above Shoal Creek, around Horseshoe Bend, and downstream from the dam.

A single floor measuring twenty-two feet by fifty-seven feet supported the turbines, generators, and other equipment. While the walls and roof are in sound condition, the floor and substructure have been damaged by water flooding into the powerhouse. Windows, doors, and other fixtures have all been removed. Originally, there were two horizontal Francis-type turbines, developing 600 horsepower under a thirty-seven-foot gross head at the Lawrenceburg No. 1 site. These turbines received water from the penstocks and discharged water through the draft tubes directly underneath the powerhouse. All machinery was removed when the plant was retired in 1939.

Lawrenceburg No. 1 Hydroelectric Station, Lawrenceburg Tennessee Dam, looking southeast (1989)
Dam, looking southeast (1989)

Lawrenceburg No. 1 Hydroelectric Station, Lawrenceburg Tennessee Dam Abutment, looking southwest (1989)
Dam Abutment, looking southwest (1989)

Lawrenceburg No. 1 Hydroelectric Station, Lawrenceburg Tennessee Powerhouse, looking east (1989)
Powerhouse, looking east (1989)

Lawrenceburg No. 1 Hydroelectric Station, Lawrenceburg Tennessee Powerhouse, looking east (1989)
Powerhouse, looking east (1989)