Bluestone Dam is a large concrete gravity structure located on the New River in Summers County, West Virginia. Dam construction created Bluestone Lake, which contributes to flood protection on the New, Kanawha, and Ohio rivers. Planning and construction of the dam led to a lengthy court battle that was settled only by appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court's decision established the federal government's right to control dam construction and hydroelectric power generation on navigable waterways, and also established the New River as a navigable stream even though the river was too shallow to support commercial traffic.
The dam is a late representative example of the concrete gravity dams built by federal agencies during the ambitious public works program that began in the early 1930s. It embodies fairly typical design characteristics for its time, and contemporary articles in engineering journals cited few innovative "firsts" associated with the dam. In actuality, the design is quite similar to Tygart Dam built by the Pittsburgh District Corps of Engineers 1935-1938, despite the fact that each concrete gravity dam built in this period is a unique structure that was tailored, both in scale and design, to its individual site. Builders of Bluestone Dam utilized recently developed concrete technologies, including air entrainment and artificial chilling of mixing water.
Bluestone Dam's massive, streamlined design is reflective of the Art Deco and Art Moderne design philosophies of the period. Dr. Paul Philippe Cret, a prominent architect known for designing bridge abutments, dams, and government buildings during the 1920s-1940s period, was responsible for the aesthetic component of the dam's design.
Background and Planning
Periodic flooding had become an increasingly severe problem along sections of major river valleys in the post-Civil War era, as urban population centers grew along the Ohio and other navigable rivers. As early as 1851, engineer Charles Ellet, Jr. prepared a report that recommended building stronger and higher levees and a series of storage reservoirs on the Ohio, Kanawha, Missouri, and upper Mississippi basins to benefit navigation, and control flooding. Congress in 1857 rejected a series of detailed studies associated with the Ellet Plan, and engineers later declared many of the engineering problems posed by Ellet as being unsolvable. His plan was considered controversial and the Corps of Engineers rejected it. One of the main objections was that he proposed building reservoir dams exceeding 100 feet in height over moving streams. Construction of such high dams was a difficult undertaking in the late 1800s, and dam failures (most notably the 1889 collapse of the South Fork Conemaugh River Dam at Johnstown, Pennsylvania) shook public confidence in contemporary dam-building technology.
The initial phase of federal involvement in reservoir dam construction came in 1902 with the National Reclamation Act that authorized the Federal Bureau of Reclamation to begin building dams in the western United States to facilitate agricultural irrigation. The first multi-purpose high concrete dam constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was Wilson Dam on the Tennessee River at Sheffield, Alabama. Built between 1918 and 1926, Wilson Dam provides hydroelectric power and extra water to maintain stable navigation pools on the Tennessee River Navigation System.
Private Hydroelectric Dam
Efforts to Construct a Private Hydroelectric Dam to Bluestone Dam
While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers eventually constructed Bluestone Dam as a federal facility, private power companies planned to develop hydroelectric dams on the New River in the early twentieth century. By 1910, a group of residents from nearby Hinton, West Virginia, commissioned a set of drawings and specifications for a dam in hopes of attracting a utility company to the region for hydroelectric power. Area residents presented their plan to the Appalachian Power Company, a private utility created in 1911 through the merger of several power plants along the New River. Appalachian Power expressed immediate interest in building a hydroelectric dam at the Bluestone site.
Meanwhile, executive and legislative measures promoted the federal position that the United States government held jurisdiction over the Bluestone project. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration announced that the Bluestone Dam and Reservoir would improve navigation on the Kanawha River, control flooding on the New, Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, and reduce pollution for downstream cities and towns. Moreover, it was thought that the sale of hydroelectric power generated by the dam would offset construction costs. On September 12, 1935, Roosevelt ordered the Secretary of War to proceed with the construction of a multi-purpose federal dam at the Bluestone site using funds from emergency relief appropriations. Congress included appropriations for the Bluestone project in the Flood Control Acts of 1936 and 1938. In 1936, the Huntington District set up a field office at Hinton, West Virginia, and began surveying conditions at the Bluestone site. Two area Civilian Conservation Corps camps were established to provide labor for clearing the dam site of trees and other debris.
As the new federal dam project appeared to be close at hand, Appalachian Power Company quickly affirmed its opposition to the government's construction plans by insisting that the New River was not a navigable waterway. Specifically, when the government sought to condemn land for the dam in April 1936, West Virginia Power Company, a subsidiary of Appalachian Power, obtained an injunction from the Southern West Virginia District Court forbidding the act of condemnation on grounds of unconstitutional delegation of powers. The federal government appealed the district court's decision, and in September 1937 the circuit court ruled that the Flood Control Act of 1936 made the legality of federal construction of Bluestone Dam irrelevant. However, West Virginia Power Company soon filed a suit challenging the ruling.
In response to challenges to the government's authority to oversee and regulate dam construction over a U.S.waterway, the Corps of Engineers had been collecting evidence to demonstrate the New River's navigability. Evidence included historical data showing that the river had been navigable since pioneer days, and a demonstration that the river had the potential to be developed into a commercially navigable waterway. The overall federal goal was to demonstrate that the 111-mile stretch of the New River from Allisonia, Virginia, to Hinton, West Virginia, could be used for transportation and commerce.
The Huntington District found extensive evidence that the New River had been used for transportation during the nineteenth century. The Corps documented that in 1812 Chief Justice John Marshall led a delegation down the New River to determine possible navigation improvements that would enable the New River to support steamboat traffic. In 1819 the Virginia Assembly commissioned a survey of the river that included a 55-mile upstream journey from the mouth of the Greenbrier River to the mouth of Sinking Creek. A surviving Civil War veteran recalled that the Confederate Army used the New River to transport supplies, and in 1861 the Confederate government of Virginia appropriated $30,000 to improve river transport. An 1872 report by the Corps documented a survey of the New River from above Allisonia to the mouth of the Greenbrier River that was the basis for federal improvement plans of the 1880s. The Huntington District also produced records documenting that steamboats and keelboats had traveled on the New River. Annual reports by the Chief of Engineers during the 1870s and 1880s supported the Corps' position that the New River was a navigable waterway. Improvements undertaken from 1877 to 1883 opened the river to transportation by the iron and timber industries and linked some isolated mountain communities to keelboat or steamboat lines.
In a final demonstration, five men ascended the New River from Hinton to Allisonia in a sixteen-foot boat powered by an outboard motor. The journey was undertaken in July 1936, when the river was at its normal summer low water stage. Despite the fact that it became necessary to pull or push the boat for over a mile upstream, the Corps of Engineers cited this journey as evidence that the New River remained a navigable stream.
In 1939, the federal government made a second attempt to condemn the land needed for Bluestone Lake, but West Virginia Power Company obtained an injunction in federal district court to again block construction. In September of 1940 the case went to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, which upheld an earlier district court ruling that declared the New River non-navigable. In United States vs. Appalachian Power Company, lawyers for the opposing sides argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court on October 14 and 15, 1940. While the evidence remained the same as in the previous two cases, on December 16, 1940 the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the two lower courts and found that the New River remained a navigable waterway. This decision supported the constitutionality of the federal government's construction of the Bluestone Dam and Reservoir, and cleared the way for land acquisition by the Corps.
The Supreme Court's majority emphasized that the actual condition of a waterway was not the only criterion by which to judge navigability, but that the potential for developing the river into a viable transportation route had to be taken into account. Furthermore, the need to construct navigational aids to render a river feasible for transportation did not prevent a stream from being defined as navigable, and once rendered navigable, "a waterway remains so." The decision recognized the documentation offered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the river's development during the 1870s and 1880s as evidence of the waterway's navigability. The court went on to say that, "Nor is it necessary that the improvements should be actually completed or even authorized." In summary, the high court supported the idea of the federal government's eminent authority over the nation's rivers, whether or not those streams were currently developed to their fullest potential. Regarding the lapse in New River development during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Court responded, "Even absence of use over long periods of years, because of changed conditions, the coming of the railroad or improved highways does not affect the navigability of rivers in the constitutional sense."
Ramifications of this critical court decision extended far beyond the Bluestone Dam project. It prioritized federal control over the nation's waterways, and the actual or potential commerce exercised on those rivers. In addition, it confirmed the federal right of eminent domain in acquiring and developing the land necessary to support the transportation and hydroelectric potential of the nation's waterways, and it established the federal government's central authority in decisions affecting flood control measures. The case also had broad implications on the issue of states' rights. Forty-one state governments (including West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky) filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court supporting Appalachian Power's contention that the New River was neither navigable nor under federal jurisdiction. Moreover, the states maintained that regulation of rivers (like the New) that were not currently capable of supporting commercial navigation should be regulated by the states, and not by federal authorities. The Supreme Court decision meant that states no longer had primary authority to regulate rivers like the New, but would instead have to submit to federal oversight.
On November 10, 1941, the United States Supreme Court refused to revisit its decision that the Hinton to Allisonia section of the New River was navigable and therefore under federal jurisdiction. This decision cleared the last obstacle to federal construction of Bluestone Dam. Consequently, the day after announcing the Supreme Court's decision, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated that it would advertise for bids on the project.
A digest of design decisions reveals interesting insight into the origins of Bluestone Dam. This document indicates that the prominent French-born architect, Dr. Paul Philippe Cret, made a significant contribution to the design of Bluestone Dam. The federal government retained Cret as an advisor and to design aesthetic components of dams and lockkeeper houses in the 1930s. Correspondence links Cret to the Pittsburgh District's Tygart Dam, as well as involvement in the design of Montgomery Locks and Dam on the Ohio River, and Bonneville Dam in Oregon. Cret was largely responsible for the massive streamlined Art Deco lines of Bluestone Dam, as depicted in an elevation sketch that he personally presented at a Board of Consultants meeting in 1936. His depiction served as the basis for the overall aesthetic component of the dam's design.
Cret was born in Lyons, France, on October 23, 1876, the son of Paul Adolphe and Anna Caroline (Durand) Cret. He attended a Lycee in Bourg and studied architecture at the L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Lyonsand the L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, which was widely recognized as Europe's leading architectural academy at that time. At the Paris school, he graduated in 1903, he was awarded the Rougevin Prize and the Grand Medal of Emulation, both in recognition of his remarkable skill as a draftsman. In 1903 he was invited to teach architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained until his retirement in 1937.
The University of Pennsylvania appointed Cret as an architecture critic in 1903, after which Cret remained closely associated with the United States and the City of Philadelphia. He served in the French army during World War I, but otherwise spent most of his time in the United States. Cret became a United States citizen in 1927. During the 1930s, he designed a significant number of federal facilities, including the 1932 Federal Reserve Bank building in Washington, D.C. Cret also worked as architect for many engineering projects, most notably the Benjamin Franklin Suspension Bridge in Philadelphia.
During his long tenure at Penn, Cret was recognized as one of the foremost practitioners of the "Beaux-Arts" style, and his work left a lasting impact on the built environment of the United States, forming a bridge between the end of Beaux-Arts historicism and the rise of modernism. Cret's early buildings--among them the Pan American Union Building in Washington (1907-10), the Indianapolis Public Library (1917), and the Detroit Institute of Arts (1927)--demonstrated a refined classicism that represented the best traditions of the Beaux-Arts style. By the late 1920s, however, he began to experiment with a new, radically stripped-down classicism, exemplified by his Folger Shakespeare Library (1930-37) in Washington, that was more attuned to growing modernism. In 1937 ill health forced him to resign from the University of Pennsylvania. His last important work was the Federal Reserve Bank (1935-37) in Philadelphia. Paul Philippe Cret died of a heart ailment in Philadelphia on September 8, 1945.
Construction of Bluestone Dam: Phase One (1941-1944)
The Huntington District Corps of Engineers appointed Robert B. Jenkinson as resident engineer to oversee construction of the Bluestone Dam. A native of Greenville, Ohio, Jenkinson graduated from Wayne Technical College in 1924 and joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1931. He was involved in the construction of the Huntington District's Winfield, London, and Marmet Locks and Dams on the Kanawha River, and Gallipolis Locks and Dam (now Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam) on the Ohio River in the 1930s. Jenkinson and four other officials traveled to Hinton to study the construction site and to select a location for the office building that would house the Corps' engineering staff. Work began on this two-story wood-frame building on November 28, 1941.
Construction bids for the Bluestone Dam project were opened on December 23, 1941, with the following contractors submitting offers: Seaboard Construction Company of Mt. Kisco, New York, Dravo Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a joint venture by B. Perini & Sons of Framingham, Massachusetts. The government's estimate of contractor costs was $9,749,826; the high bidder was Perini and Sons at $11,722,750, Dravo was next at $11,376,080, and Seaboard Construction bid the lowest at $10,195,575. Major F. H. Faulkner, Huntington District engineer, announced that dam construction would begin in early 1942 after the Corps formally awarded the construction contract to the low bidder. These procedures included investigation of the company that submitted the low bid and approval of the contract by the U.S. Engineer's Office in Cincinnati. The overall estimate for all aspects of the project (including both the contractor's portion and direct government expenses) was about $14,000,000, but installation of proposed hydroelectric generation facilities raised the estimate to $22,000,000.
Seaboard submitted the low bid by slightly over one million dollars. However, the company could not obtain a performance bond and so the contract went to the Dravo Corporation on January 12, 1942. Francis R. Dravo, a mechanical engineer, founded Dravo Construction in 1891. By the turn of the century, the Pittsburgh company was experienced in heavy marine construction. Dravo Construction received its first federal government contract to build a river navigation structure in 1902, and is best known as a builder of federal locks and dams on the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.
In addition to lock and dam construction, Dravo also built concrete piers and abutments for bridges. Many of these bridges were located on the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela rivers, but the company also constructed bridge piers for spans in Maryland, Delaware, Michigan, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia. However, most of the company's bridge-related work was clustered in the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Major clients for Dravo's bridge-related operations included the municipal governments of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad. Dravo Corporation was involved in 47 major bridge construction projects between 1903 and 1947.
With regard to dam construction, Dravo was highly active in Ohio, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania. The company held the American patent for a type of roller dam gate developed by the Krupp Corporation in Germany. As a result, Dravo was contracted by the Huntington District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build navigation dams on the Kanawha River at Marmet and London, West Virginia, during the early 1930s. Dravo was also responsible for the construction of Gallipolis Dam (now Robert C. Byrd Dam) on the Ohio River, which was the largest roller gate dam in the world upon its completion in 1938.
Under the contract terms, Dravo would be the prime contractor doing all work in connection with building the actual Bluestone Dam structure. Certain appurtenant work items, such as drilling and grouting the deep curtain wall, clearing the reservoir area, removing cemeteries, and furnishing and erecting electrical and mechanical items, were exempted from this contract and awarded to specialists under separate prime contracts. Dravo's original contract called for completion of all work in 900 calendar days after reception of the notice to proceed, or by July 4, 1944.
The Corps of Engineers issued a notice to proceed for construction of Bluestone Dam on January 14, 1942. Within a week Dravo crews had commenced preliminary excavation, and began erecting a timber bridge over the Greenbrier River and a railroad spur to the construction site. The timber bridge was completed by March 6, 1942, and the first train rolled over it less than six weeks later. Next came the building of the construction plant and other facilities necessary for the dam's completion.
The construction plant was located on a wide plain along the east side of Bluestone River. Laid out on a linear plan with small-gauge railroad tracks that led to the dam site, it consisted of 29 primarily wood-frame structures, including personnel-related facilities, a concrete mixing plant, storage buildings, a boiler plant, sawmill, and various shop buildings. Since electrically powered cranes, vibrators, and other equipment would be used, an electrical line was run to the site and four electrical substations were built as part of the construction plant.
One of the most important components of the construction plant was the concrete mixing facility designed by the C. S. Johnson Company of Champaign, Illinois. It contained three 40-horsepower Koehring tilting mixers, six 100 cubic yard aggregate bins, and one large cement bin with a capacity of 800 barrels of cement. Also included were eight scales for weighing aggregate, cement, and water.
Historic view of the Bluestone Dam construction plant
The concrete plant was also equipped with a "dinkey" small-gauge railroad system for transportation of materials. Characterized as a 42-inch gauge track system built on elevated trestles supported on steel bents, Dravo apparently used one diesel 42-inch gauge dinkey locomotive and two gasoline-powered 36-inch locomotives on the project. Concrete was transferred from the dinkey cars to forms on the dam by whirler cranes mounted on steel trestles that were, in many cases, mounted on completed portions of the dam. Locations of the whirler cranes changed as concrete pouring began on higher sections of the dam.
Historic photograph of a dinkey locomotive and car.
Not all of the concrete preparation work took place at the construction site. A series of powerful blasts occurred at the aggregate quarry located 25 rail miles from the Bluestone Dam site at Fort Springs, West Virginia. Here, workers shot the rock that provided the necessary aggregate that was transported to the crushing plant for use in making concrete. The project is credited with detonating the largest blast of its nature in the southeastern United States at the time, when 160,000 pounds of dynamite reportedly blasted some 240,000 cubic yards of stone into smaller bits of aggregate.
In addition to the remote quarry blasting, on-site use of dynamite loosened the rock hillsides on which the dam itself would be erected. These blasts proved to be some of the most important, and visually dramatic, components of the entire dam project. Workers began by first drilling and preparing the holes into which the dynamite charges were set and tamped. Then came the earth-shattering detonation of the dynamite charges, followed by the introduction of heavy shovels that were employed to clear the blast area of exploded rock.
Another early task was the installation of a large cofferdam that diverted river flow and provided a safe, dry area for construction. This cofferdam was completed using a large whirler crane. Mounted on steel rails, the crane positioned materials and drove piling. Once cofferdam construction advanced into the river, it became necessary to build crushed rock fill mounds to support the crane. Located on the eastern section of the dam, much of the first cofferdam was built of steel sheetpile cells filled with sand, loam, gravel, and shale. Construction of the first cofferdam required approximately 93,000 linear feet of sheet piling weighing 1,430 tons. Builders completed the cofferdam on the "Ohio River Box Type" plan with timber sheeting tied together with steel coffer rods. The south wall of the cofferdam consisted of 19 cells, while the west wall consisted of 20 cells. As dam construction proceeded across New River, it became necessary to erect another cofferdam that was not completed until the second phase of construction in 1946.
Construction of the first cofferdam in May 1942.
Note whirler crane positioned on a mound of crushed rock. (1949 Final Report)
Historic photograph of a whirler crane used at Bluestone Dam.
(Final Report, 1949)
Work on the construction plant, transportation facilities, and the first cofferdam proceeded fairly smoothly at the outset. However, the project soon fell behind schedule due to unforeseen difficulties with the foundation rock. After drilling a series of test holes into the riverbed to explore the condition of the rock under the dam, Corps officials ordered an exploratory shaft excavated at the toe of the dam. This drilling revealed a series of problems, including a seam in the foundation rock. Concerned that the seam might result in water seepage, a large open pit investigation was undertaken. A total of 16,023 cubic yards of rock were removed from this area, requiring 25,665 feet of line drilling and pouring of 11,737 cubic years of concrete backfill. Nearly the entire area under the dam was consolidated by the drilling of 879 holes to an average depth exceeding 45 feet per hole, followed by the placing of 89,666 bags of concrete grout.
Dravo Corporation recorded several construction delays due to materials arriving late or being totally unavailable due to wartime shortages. Many key items arrived weeks or months late, including concrete mixers, conveyors and locomotives for the narrow gauge railroad system used to haul building materials. Part of the problem, according to Dravo Vice President J. S. Miller, was the project's rating by the War Production Board. Particularly harmful was the demotion of the project from a favorable rating of A-2 (the highest rating was A-1-a) to a much less favorable rating of A-6. Construction delays do not appear to have been attributable to poor performance by Dravo Corporation, but they still had a devastating effect on company efforts to complete the project in a timely manner. Nevertheless, work proceeded during the early days of World War II in an attempt to secure much-needed hydroelectric power to alleviate a critical shortage.
The first concrete pour on the main dam at Bluestone was originally scheduled for July 13, 1942, but delays in receiving equipment held up the first pouring of concrete on the main portion of the dam until November 13, 1942, four months later than originally scheduled. A few months later the need for electric power reached crisis levels, and so the War Production Board raised the priority ranking, thereby allowing the contractor for a time to obtain needed materials and supplies. Finally, due to incessant delays and the slow pace of construction, the War Production Board directed that all work on Bluestone Dam be stopped on January 8, 1943, except for that which was necessary to bring the project to a safe suspension point. Dravo Corporation was directed to construct the portion of the dam to 1390 feet in elevation, a level approximating the top of Cofferdam No. 1, and to remove the cofferdam and suspend operations for the duration of the war. Once existing monoliths were completed to this level, work was suspended on March 1, 1944, with the dam approximately 35% complete.
During the first construction phase from 1942 to 1944 a great deal of important work had been completed. Namely, the dam site had been cleared, weak foundation rock had been removed and the resulting spaces filled with concrete, and work had begun on lower sections of some of the monoliths that make up much of the dam's concrete mass. However, there was much work yet to be done.
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.
Technological Innovations in Concrete
Despite the lack of significant engineering or design "firsts" attributed to Bluestone Dam or reported in contemporary engineering journal articles on the project, there are several noteworthy aspects of the dam's design and engineering. The dam was built in an era of marked advancements in concrete technology. In the 1940s, for example, construction specialists were beginning to understand the value of air entrainment, a technique in which the strength and durability of concrete was enhanced by trapping air bubbles in the mix. This technique was not used in the first construction phase of Bluestone Dam, but it was adopted soon after the second construction phase began in 1946. Bluestone Dam, like Tygart before it, is a fairly early example of the use of hydraulic model testing to assist in the design of the spillways and other parts of the dam related to water flow. Bluestone Dam's construction reflects technological changes that occurred from the mid-1930s to the late 1940s.
The vast majority of Bluestone Dam's mass consists of concrete, some of it reinforced with steel rods (or rebar). Transporting and pouring of the concrete appears to have been fairly typical for the time. Bottom-dump concrete buckets, each with a capacity of two to three cubic yards, hauled the concrete to flat cars on the dinkey railroad, which then moved the buckets around as needed. Whirler cranes picked up the concrete dump buckets, positioned them above the spot where the concrete needed to be poured, and then the buckets were emptied. Workers inserted a vibrator into the liquid concrete to settle and consolidate the material, and to remove air and water pockets that formed during pouring. Next came tamping and leveling of the surface of the concrete, followed by finishing with wooden floats or a steel trowel.
The 1949 Final Report for Bluestone Dam indicates that all concrete poured on the dam was cured with either water or steam, depending on the weather conditions. The curing, or hardening, process is actually a chemical change that takes place within the concrete, and is not a matter of the concrete simply "drying out." The exposed portions of the concrete at Bluestone had to be kept wet during the curing process, and during warm months a hose and sprinkler system sprayed water on the exposed concrete surfaces and wooden forms. In colder months when freezing presented problems, curing was done using steam pumped onto the concrete's exposed surface. The steam had the dual purpose of heating the concrete while also keeping the surface of the concrete wet. In extremely cold temperatures, tarps were placed over the concrete's surface to retain the steam heat. Steam curing generally took about five days, but could take longer during very cold conditions.
A more complex problem faced by the dam builders was the maintenance of an acceptable internal temperature inside the curing concrete. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers learned from experience the importance of avoiding temperature extremes inside large masses of uncured concrete. One way to avoid excessively high temperatures was to chill the water used in mixing the concrete. Refrigerated mixing water may have been used as early as 1939 at Hiwassee Dam to lower the temperature of concrete as it cured. The Corps further developed water-chilling techniques for the Norfolk Flood Control Dam in Arkansas (1941-1945) by dumping crushed ice into the concrete mixing water during warm months. This successfully reduced the temperature of the freshly mixed concrete by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Bluestone Dam's answer to cooling the concrete was the installation of a water-cooling unit in the original concrete plant that was built on the site in 1942. A York ice machine with two ammonia compressors powered by a pair of 100-horsepower motors chilled 100 gallons of river water per minute, from its original temperature of 85 degrees down to 35 degrees. If the water temperature before chilling was as low as 60 degrees, the plant could process up to 200 gallons per minute.
Another interesting technological aspect of the Bluestone Dam's construction is the modification of the concrete mixture as the construction progressed. The concrete mixture appears to have remained consistent throughout the early construction campaign, but in late 1946, detected problems encouraged two changes. First came the revelation that the fine aggregate contained an insufficient amount of natural and stone sand. A significant increase in the amount of fine sand improved the concrete's quality by reducing air and water pockets and other unsightly pockmarks on the surface of the concrete. This technique mainly improved the appearance of the concrete, but not its strength or durability. Next came a major change in the composition of Bluestone Dam's concrete. Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, a technique known as air entrainment was developed to provide more durable, workable concrete. Air-entrained concrete often possesses a more consistent appearance than regular concrete, and it is highly resistant to harsh climate conditions. In the 1940s, the air entrainment technique generally involved adding a mixture that trapped small air bubbles in the concrete. Air entrainment eventually became standard practice in concrete construction, but it was still in its infancy in the early 1940s. The original 1941 construction specifications for Bluestone Dam do not mention air entrainment, and the technique was not used during the 1942-1944 construction phase. A change order of March 20, 1947 explained, "When the original plans/specs were prepared, the advantage of the use of air entraining agents in the concrete had not yet been adequately determined. Higher authority has subsequently recommended the use of air entraining admixtures in concrete structures of this type."
In a series of experimental concrete pours at Bluestone Dam in 1946, a variety of test materials were added to the concrete to improve its workability, durability, consistency, and appearance. One air-entraining agent, Darex AEA (a triethanolamine salt of a sulfonated hydrocarbon), proved to be the best choice to "produce a more workable mix and a more durable concrete."
The concrete of the lower sections of the dam built in 1942-1944 still retains a darker, ochre-colored hue, and there are many areas of moss growth and discoloration. The concrete of the upper portions of the dam is of a slightly different color and is cleaner and smoother, with relatively few moss growths, pockmarks, or other surface irregularities. This may be evidence of the greater durability of the post-1946 concrete poured at the dam, a concrete produced with a higher percentage of fine sand and using the process of air entrainment.
According to Nicholas Schnitter's A History of Dams: The Useful Pyramids, air-entraining agents were first used in connection with concrete dam construction at Angostura Dam, completed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in South Dakota in 1949. Raymond E. Davis states in "Historical Account of Mass Concrete" that around 1945 air entrainment became standard practice for pouring concrete that was to be exposed to severe weather conditions. However, he gives no further details. Depending on when air entrainment was first used in dam construction, Bluestone may have been one of the first concrete gravity dams built in the United States with air-entrained concrete.
Flood, Recreation, History
Flood Control, Recreation, & Historical Significance
In 1938, Congress had plans for up to five flood control reservoirs for the Kanawha River basin. In addition to Bluestone Dam, in 1941 planning began on Sutton Dam and Lake located on the Elk River 75 miles above Charleston. Construction of this concrete gravity dam, which is 40 feet higher than Bluestone Dam, was completed between 1956 and 1961. Construction of Summersville Dam on the Gauley River took place between 1960 and 1966, providing additional flood control for the area and creating the state's largest lake. Bluestone Dam, Sutton Dam, and Summersville Dam today provide flood protection to West Virginia's heavily industrialized Kanawha Valley, which includes the capital city of Charleston. These three reservoirs control 57% of the total water drainage in the Charleston area, with Bluestone Lake controlling about 44% of this total.
Bluestone Lake has the largest drainage area and flood storage of any dam in West Virginia. Extending over 10 miles up the New River, it is the third largest impoundment in the state. Within twelve years of its completion, Bluestone Dam prevented flood damage equal to as much as twice its construction cost. Bluestone Dam has prevented approximately $1.6 billion in flood damages since it began operation as a flood control structure in 1949.
In addition to providing important flood control benefits to the Kanawha Valley, the reservoir is an important recreational facility for southern West Virginia. Bluestone Dam and Bluestone Lake attract over 1.3 million visitors annually, which brings significant economic benefit to Hinton and the surrounding region. During the summer, the lake's total surface area covers more than 2,040 acres and provides opportunities for recreational activities such as boating, fishing, and water skiing. Moreover, the area surrounding the lake is a popular destination for picnics, hunting, biking, and camping.
Federal lands around Bluestone Lake are designated as the Bluestone Lake Wildlife Management Area. This includes 17,632 acres of land, much of which has been leased to the State of West Virginia for forest, fish, and wildlife conservation. The Bluestone Lake Wildlife Management Area is one of the most popular public hunting and fishing areas in the state, and features wild turkey, whitetail deer, and a variety of small game and fish. The area includes excellent recreational facilities, including seven campgrounds and a rustic cabin and barn area. A large public hunting area has also been reserved at the upper end of the lake.
While the Huntington District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the operation of the dam and adjacent parking areas, scenic overlook, and picnic area, the State of West Virginia, under a licensing agreement with the federal government, provides fish, wildlife, and forest management of the lands around the lake. The State of West Virginia has developed a portion of the reservoir lands and adjacent state-owned lands as Bluestone State Park and Pipestem State Park. The state parks together contain 50 cabins, 169 tent/trailer campsites, 143 lodge rooms, boat rentals, hiking trails, a handicapped accessible fishing pier, and numerous amenities. A portion of the lake and associated lands in Virginia are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in cooperation with state law enforcement and conservation agencies in Virginia.
In 1997, Bluestone Dam was evaluated to determine its potential eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. Findings indicated that Bluestone Dam is historically significant under National Register Criterion A, which recognizes resources that are associated with important events in American history, or with important patterns and trends in American history. Resources eligible for the National Register under Criterion A can be historically significant at the local, state, or national level. Bluestone Dam is historically significant for its associations with the landmark Supreme Court case that strengthened the federal government's ability to develop water resources. The dam was also cited as significant for its associations with the federal flood control program of the early to mid-twentieth century, which resulted in the establishment of large reservoirs in many parts of the United States. These reservoirs have prevented billions of dollars in flood damage to cities and towns of all sizes. Use of Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds for the project and the positive local economic impact of Bluestone Lake and the Bluestone Wildlife Management area were also mentioned as themes that contribute to the dam's historic significance.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funded the 1997 National Register eligibility assessment because of long-range plans to alter Bluestone Dam. One severe problem in the dam's operation is the buildup of debris and other trash in Bluestone Lake during high water. At times, up to twenty acres of flood debris can back up behind the dam, ranging from driftwood to old tires, bottles, cans, abandoned refrigerators and other appliances. Removal of these items is time-consuming, and if these materials pass through the dam during low water conditions, they can become snagged in scenic areas below Bluestone Dam.
This problem and its effect on the natural and scenic resources below Bluestone Dam have been an area of concern to the Corps of Engineers. Plans are currently in place to construct a drift release tower at the dam. This facility would consist of a large opening in the dam that could be manipulated to pass driftwood and other debris through the dam during high water, so that the material will wash down the New River and out of the area. Some larger pieces of debris such as tires and appliances may be removed before they pass through the drift release tower. The estimated project cost is $9.2 million, and completion is expected in 2003. Construction of the drift release tower is part of a comprehensive effort to remove solid waste from the New River, one of the top whitewater rafting destinations in the eastern United States.
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