Tapoco Lodge is near Cheoah Dam
2005-07-31

by Dean Stone

Tapoco Lodge, just a short walk from Cheoah Dam, is located in a community that reached a peak population in excess of 2,000 during construction of the Cheoah and Santeetlah dams. The Lodge was not built until 1930 and when a road reached the area a year later it was opened to the public. It has 10 guest rooms in the lodge, and five cabins with 15 rooms as well as a dining room that seats 90. In recent years it has been sold by ALCOA but remains open to the public.

In those days, most of the travel was by train. That explains why on Sunday afternoons people always gathered at the large Calderwood train station to greet those arriving back home from Maryville where they had gone to get away for the weekend. Of course, returning home they had traveled from the Southern Depot on Washington Street in Maryville via Montvale Station, Mint, Alleghany, Bacons Ferry, Tallassee, Chilhowee and to Calderwood, according to the timetable.

Years ago, the Calloway Turnpike from North Carolina crossed the river at Tallassee Ford, the site of Calderwood. The turnpike connected with Parson's Turnpike with access to Cades Cove over what is now known as Parsons Branch Road. The turnpikes were toll roads in the early days.

The first major move by ALCOA was to purchase the 1,100-acre John Howard farm whose two-story, 10-room, white farm house was a landmark in the area and at different times served as the club house at Calderwood. Howard had purchased the farm in 1874.
In 1916, ALCOA built a school in Calderwood and paid the teachers in the early years. Among the early teachers were Dr. Randolph Shields, Dr. Herma R. Cate, Winfred Hitson, and Johnnie Griffitts Lunsford.

Ralph H. Lee, author of the new book, grew up in Calderwood, having been born there in 1936 and living there until 1958. His life has been a most varied and interesting one.

Another aspect of Calderwood was a luxurious private lodge owned by ALCOA and located just across Little Tennessee River in Monroe County. It was named Scona, said to mean "across the river" in Cherokee. There ALCOA entertained the nationally high and mighty -- those who were guests of the national headquarters in Pittsburgh -- and occasionally the Blount County Commission or local officeholders.

Cheoah, Santeetlah, Calderwood built

The 135-mile-long Little Tennessee River rises in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Rabun County in northeastern Georgia. It flows north through the mountains into southwestern North Carolina. It is joined by the Cullasaja River at Franklin, then turns northwest, flowing through Nantahala National Forest and crosses into Blount County, Tennessee, following the Blount-Monroe County line and joining the Tennessee River at Lenoir City in Loudon County.

The Cheoah Dam was the first of 11 dams and 15 plants designed and built by ALCOA on the Little Tennessee watershed. The 225-foot high, 750-foot long dam was completed in 1919, three years after ALCOA had completed its smelting plant in Blount County. For the first three years ALCOA purchased private power from the dams on the Ocoee River to operate its smelter.

The decision to proceed with Cheoah Dam was the result of the increasing demand for aluminum during World War I.A gravity-type, arched concrete dam, Cheoah handles the drainage from 1,608 square miles. When completed in early 1919 it was the world's highest overflow dam with the largest hydroelectric generating units.

It transmitted the power 28 miles to present-day Alcoa over rugged terrain. At one point the transmission lines crossed the Little Tennessee River in a single 5,010-foot span, the world's longest. That break through pioneered the way for the longer spans that have since been built.

The highway bridge just below Cheoah Dam was replaced in recent years. It replaced a bridge that was originally built and used for the railroad to Tapoco and Santeetlah. The railroad bridge was built in late 1920 after a construction bridge at the site had washed out a few months earlier.

During World War II, the famous Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Margaret Bourke White, spent a day photographing the north-facing Cheoah Dam where moss was growing in the slight trickle of water on the concrete face of the dam. Of course, like most professional photographers, she "burned" (used) an awful lot of film during the day. A famous personality who did outstanding work for Life magazine, her visit attracted some attention from the few who knew of it.

An ALCOA public relations manager spent the entire day escorting the photographer at the dam. Asked the next day what he thought of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer. He replied, "Well ----, if I had taken as many pictures as she did I could have gotten a good one too!"

Source: Maryville Daily Times
Dean Stone is editor of the The Daily Times.