Oldest Operating Hydro Power Plant in TVA


Ocoee No. 1 Hydroelectric Station - Parksville Dam, Parksville Tennessee
Date added: October 16, 2023 Categories: Tennessee Power Plant Hydroelectric Power
Ocoee No. 1 dam and powerhouse, looking southeast (1989)

The Ocoee No. 1 hydroelectric station is an early large-scale, professionally-designed steel-reinforced concrete hydroelectric engineering project typical of electrical power development in the state of Tennessee throughout the early years of the twentieth century. Its curvilinear spillway section, while not unique, is shared by only one other site in the state, at Calderwood, in Blount County. It's design shares consistency in construction materials, genre, temporal limits, and utilitarian functions with other larger, pre-TVA hydroelectric sites on Tennessee's larger rivers, and with its younger sister Ocoee No. 2. Hydroelectricity has been continually produced there since 1912, serving a wide variety of industrial and domestic electric needs in two states.

The Ocoee No. 1 hydroelectric station represents the transition from private, possession of property, to public ownership of public utilities that occurred from 1901 to 1933 in Tennessee. It also represents the introduction of a new public utility business, that of supplying electricity, that would become one of the major hallmarks of the twentieth century in Tennessee and, thus, fundamentally representative of a change in the business of trading, production, commerce, communications, and commodities in a wide range of territory in the State of Tennessee. Ocoee No. 1 was also built for flood control planning, as manifest by the creation of the first artificial lake in Tennessee.

Promoted in the early 1900s by J. W. Adams, a prominent contractor in Chattanooga, the Ocoee No. 1 site would become the first major hydroelectric facility to provide power to Chattanooga and other regional cities. The C. M. Clark interests of Philadelphia formed the Eastern Tennessee Power Company to construct the project. Actual work began in 1910, and the first concrete was poured in 1911. There were three distinct labor camps at the construction site, one for white workers on the north side of the river, a separate African-American camp west of the quarry on the south side of the Ocoee, and a camp designated for foreign laborers. There was also a boarding house, a rock-crushing facility, and a concrete mixing plant. Company officials and financial backers visited the construction site in late 1911, and vice-president of the C. M. Clark Company confidently predicted that:

when we furnish electricity to help make Chattanooga grow...we are simply doing that which...will attract manufacturing enterprises....The future of Chattanooga must be in manufacturing lines...

Ocoee No. 1, like Ocoee No.2, was designed and constructed by the J. G. White Engineering Company of New York, under the direction of Hydraulic Engineer W. P. Creager, author of many books on hydroelectric design, most notably The Hydroelectric Handbook (1927). Ocoee No. 1 hydro plant began operation on January 27, 1912, when power was first delivered, and has operated ever since. It, along with the Ocoee No. 2 plant completed in 1914, formed a hydroelectric production facility that was to serve the electrical demands of Cleveland, Chattanooga, Athens, Sweetwater, Loudon, Lenoir City, and Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as Rome and Dalton, Georgia. In March 1990 Ocoee No. 1 was inundated with flood waters. The damage was repaired and the station was put back in service.

Site Description

Ocoee No. 1, or Parksville, Hydroelectric Station is located in Polk County, (population 13,602) Tennessee, in the mountainous southeastern section of the state. It is at Ocoee River mile 11.9 at U. S. Highway No. 64/State Highway No. 74, sixteen miles east of Cleveland, Tennessee.

The Ocoee No. 1 site would become the first major hydroelectric facility to provide power to Chattanooga and other regional cities. Actual work began in 1910, and the first concrete was poured in 191l. Ocoee No. 2 was completed in 1914. The production facility served the electrical demands of Cleveland, Chattanooga, Athens, Sweetwater, Loudon, Renoir City, and Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as Rome and Dalton, Georgia.

The dam is a concrete, gravity-type with an arched spillway section, designed so that the pressure of the lake behind it is transferred to the dam abutments to provide stability. The spillway section's length is 362 feet, while the entire dam measures 840 feet. Its maximum height is 135 feet, while its maximum width at the base is 110 feet. Wooden flashboards, seventy inches in height, wash out when submerged two feet. There are four seven-by-twenty-foot motor-operated hinge gates on top of the dam between the arch spillway and the powerhouse section. Two four-foot diameter sluices, of the Venturi type, are hand-operated.

The five turbine intakes are served by one, twenty by seventeen and three quarter (17.75) foot trash rack. There are five penstock, one per unit, each steel line in concrete, and each eleven by eleven feet, and each eighty feet long.

The thirty-five-foot wide by 165-foot-long three-story powerhouse is composed of a concrete substructure, brick and steel superstructure, and features clerestory lighting. A number of buildings on the site were once the residences of plant managers, but now serve as offices and storage buildings for TVA employees.

The Ocoee No. 1 site is unique inasmuch as it is the oldest operating hydroelectric facility in the TVA system. Not only is this true, but much of its generating machinery is original to the plant in 1912. According to one industrial archaeologist and expert in the material culture of the field, Ocoee No. 1 "is a classic mainly-intact turn-of-the-century hydroplant with a concrete gravity dam...[and] a lavish array of control equipment and switchgear... characteristic of turn-of-the-century engineering practice...[all of which is]...still not only in place, but in present operation." The site "survives as the oldest and most original of the power plants in the TVA system...."

Ocoee No. 1 Hydroelectric Station - Parksville Dam, Parksville Tennessee Ocoee No. 1 dam, looking south (1989)
Ocoee No. 1 dam, looking south (1989)

Ocoee No. 1 Hydroelectric Station - Parksville Dam, Parksville Tennessee Ocoee No. 1 dam, looking south; note curvilinear spillway with wooden flashboards (1989)
Ocoee No. 1 dam, looking south; note curvilinear spillway with wooden flashboards (1989)

Ocoee No. 1 Hydroelectric Station - Parksville Dam, Parksville Tennessee Ocoee No. 1 dam's curvilinear spillway, looking south (1989)
Ocoee No. 1 dam's curvilinear spillway, looking south (1989)

Ocoee No. 1 Hydroelectric Station - Parksville Dam, Parksville Tennessee Ocoee No. 1 dam and powerhouse, looking southeast (1989)
Ocoee No. 1 dam and powerhouse, looking southeast (1989)

Ocoee No. 1 Hydroelectric Station - Parksville Dam, Parksville Tennessee Ocoee No. 1 dam, showing flood gate, looking southeast (1989)
Ocoee No. 1 dam, showing flood gate, looking southeast (1989)

Ocoee No. 1 Hydroelectric Station - Parksville Dam, Parksville Tennessee Operative antique oil governor for generators at Ocoee No. 1 powerhouse (1989)
Operative antique oil governor for generators at Ocoee No. 1 powerhouse (1989)

Ocoee No. 1 Hydroelectric Station - Parksville Dam, Parksville Tennessee View of original generators at Ocoee No. 1 powerhouse (1989)
View of original generators at Ocoee No. 1 powerhouse (1989)