Home > About > History > Bluestone Dam > 7. Construction II

Following the end of World War II, work proceeded on Bluestone Dam after President Harry Truman signed a deficiency appropriation bill on December 29, 1945 that included $3,000,000 for the completion of the project. Soon thereafter, Albert C. Hook was appointed interim resident engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Bluestone, and construction work resumed. Hook would serve in that position until Robert Jenkinson, who had been resident engineer on the project before construction was halted, could return from active military service. Robert Thompson, Dravo's project superintendent, soon arrived on-site and construction of Bluestone Dam began once more on January 2, 1946.

Much of the first four months of the new construction campaign was spent in rehabilitating the construction plant and completing site preparation. Dravo was required to perform this work on an actual cost basis, without additional money added for profit. The overall cost of rehabilitating the construction plant totaled $195,688. When construction resumed, there was still a large amount of concrete that needed to be poured for the monoliths and additional work was needed elsewhere. Other important features of the dam yet to be installed included the sluice gates, crest gates, and the six penstocks.

The late summer and fall of 1946 was a productive period that witnessed the pouring of a large amount of concrete. As this work continued, components of the sluice gates arrived at the construction site. The federal government purchased them directly from Hardee-Tynes Manufacturing Company in Birmingham, Alabama. Workers used whirler cranes to lower the gate assemblies into place, and eight 30-ton hydraulic jacks carefully positioned the assemblies. The gate hoists and hoist machinery were then installed using the whirler cranes. Installation of the sluice gates proceeded in stages, beginning with the western half of the dam when the second cofferdam was in place. Upon removal of the second cofferdam's upper wall, the river was allowed to flow through the western bays of the spillway while semicircular cofferdams were installed in sluice openings in the eastern half of the dam to allow installation of trash racks and the sluice gates themselves. After completing this installation, these gates were opened and water began flowing through this part of the dam. Then came closure of gates on the western half of the dam, which allowed for the completion of unfinished sections of the stilling weir on the western half of the dam.

The large steel plates used to build the penstocks arrived in 1946. Each penstock was made up of 14 steel rings, with each ring consisting of two semicircular steel plates of varying widths, and also featured 20 steel stiffener rings. All parts of the penstocks were welded, plus each one had a few bolts to secure the temporary bulkheads that stopped water from flowing through the penstocks. Each penstock assembly weighed approximately 90 tons. Bethlehem Steel Company provided the steel for the penstocks.

North elevation of Bluestone Dam, with five of the six penstocks visible.

During installation, workers placed circular wooden centerings called "spiders" inside the penstocks. The "spiders" structurally reinforced the penstocks and helped maintain their circular form as they were moved around during construction. Interestingly, workers identified and photographed the extant remains of a "spider" following dewatering of the intake section lagoon in March 2001. This centering was apparently discarded into the lagoon during construction and has been preserved by continual immersion in water.

Elevation drawing of a 'spider' penstock centering. 
(1949 Final Report)

Penstock in place with 'spider' visible. 
(1949 Final Report)

Remains of a wooden 'spider' found in 2001 in the Bluestone Dam lagoon.

Following an ambitious schedule of concrete pouring through 1946, concrete work on the dam's large monoliths slowed in the winter of 1947. Use of wintertime steam curing techniques allowed the continued pouring of concrete on portions of the dam that had smaller surface areas, such as the small west training wall monoliths. Concrete work on the upper sections of the monoliths continued through late 1948.

Meanwhile, the penstocks had been completely embedded in concrete by spring of 1947. Work concentrated on the west training wall and stilling weir, and on construction of concrete monoliths in the area of the dam covered by the second cofferdam. By late summer 1947, almost all monoliths had been brought up to grade, and work began on dismantling the second cofferdam. In March 1948, Dravo Corporation announced its intention to complete a number of tasks in the following months that would require the closing of some of the dam's sluice gates. These operations included closing eight of the 16 sluice gates of the dam so that work on one half of the stilling weir could be completed. The company also planned to remove portions of the narrow gauge "dinkey" trestle across the spillway.

Construction on upper sections of the dam was finished in December 1948, thus concluding all permanent work on the structure. The federal government officially accepted the completed dam on December 10, 1948. Dravo then completed demobilization, site cleanup, and removal of the whirler cranes and construction plant in January 1949.

The total amount of money paid to Dravo Corporation under the Bluestone Dam construction contract was $13,419,935, including an adjustment of $991,662 under the contract's escalator clause, fees of $477,357 paid to Dravo because of the suspension of construction, and various other fees and charges. By comparison, Dravo's original January 1942 bid to complete the job was $11,376,000, while the original government estimate of the cost of the contract was $9,749,826. In the end, the government paid Dravo Corporation $2,043,935 more than the company's original bid for the project. Much of this cost can be attributed to expenses associated with shutting down and resuming construction of the dam at the end of World War II, and to higher material and labor costs associated with the resumption of construction in 1946.

With the alleviation of the World War II-era power shortage, construction of the dam's hydroelectric powerhouse was cancelled. The dam was thus completed as a flood control structure only, with provisions that would allow for the future addition of a powerhouse for electric power generation. The original Bluestone Dam contract called for installation of crest gates as part of the main construction campaign, although the gates were not actually designed and installed until several years later. Like the sluice gates, the U.S. government purchased the crest gates directly and the Dravo Corporation installed them. However, officials argued during the second construction campaign that the gates were not essential for operating the dam as a flood control structure only. It was also reasoned that the Huntington District should redesign the gates to have a higher allowable unit stress, thus yielding significant financial savings.

Original plans called for the government to complete design modifications and purchase the crest gates in 1949, with installation to logically follow in 1950. However, installation of the crest gates was not actually completed until 1952. This additional expense raised the total construction cost for Bluestone Dam to nearly $30 million.

Detail of crest gates and gate piers, north elevation of Bluestone Dam

Notably, the dam began fulfilling its flood control mandate before full installation of the crest gates that allow excess water to flow over the reservoir in extreme high water conditions. During a severe flood in December 1950, the dam stored 121,400 acre-feet of water, lowering the flood crest levels at Hinton by four feet and at Charleston by ten feet. Without the intervention of Bluestone Dam and Reservoir, the 1950 flood would have caused severe property damage along the New and Kanawha river basins. Since 1950, Bluestone Dam has successfully provided effective flood control that has mitigated untold millions of dollars in potential flood losses for downstream communities.