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Floodgates open at Martin Dam during a 1928 flood

History of Lake Martin

Cherokee Bluffs, where the Tallapoosa River flowed through the ridge, was scouted as a possible dam site in the early 1900’s, but it wasn’t until 1923 that construction began on what would become Lake Martin. The spot was almost perfect: A relatively narrow river flowing over solid rock, the bluffs on either side, long, narrow, sparsely populated valleys upstream.

The young Alabama Power Co. had won the right to build a dam at Cherokee Bluffs in 1916, but World War I delayed the beginning of construction.  It was a mammoth undertaking. There was land to be acquired – some 60,000 acres – roads and bridges to be relocated, people and cemeteries to be moved. And there was land to be cleared, itself a major undertaking that required about 1,000 workers.  The logistics of building the dam were challenging.  A rail spur had to be constructed. An entire village, some 250 buildings, to house the construction workers and their families and to supply their needs sprang up at the bluffs.  In addition to housing, the village had a school, infirmary, church, a bakery, an ice plant, a commissary, barber shop, shoe shop and a pool room. At its peak, the village had a population of around 3,000, making it larger than Alexander City, Dadeville or Tallassee. Three years later, with the exception of a few buildings, the village was dismantled.  Workers closed the dam’s gates on June 9, 1926, and the water began backing up, creating what was then the world’s largest artificial body of water.

Alabama Power Co. declared the dam completed and in service on Dec. 31, 1926.

Two excellent books provide a wealth of information about Lake Martin’s history.

Putting Loafing Streams to Work, Harvey H. Jackson III, 1997, The University of Alabama Press.

Lake Martin: Alabama’s Crown Jewel, Elizabeth D. Schafer, 2003, Arcadia Publishing, an imprint of Tempus Publishing Inc.



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