For years after the Civil War, the former town of Etowah lay abandoned along the banks of the river from which it had taken its name. Isolated in a mountain pass, bypassed by the railroad main line and with it's only factory laying in ruins, residents left by the hundreds, seeking new opportunities in nearby towns and growing cities.
Then, on June 15, 1946, hundreds of dignitaries, politicians, Army officers and local citizens traveled to the ghost town for groundbreaking of a mighty dam that promised to prevent massive and destructive floods downstream, produce hydroelectric power for local homes and create a huge lake that would provide recreational and business opportunities.
Georgia governor Ellis Arnall, Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield and Lieutenant General Raymond Wheeler of the US Army Corps of Engineers were among those who traveled the two-lane highways Cartersville and Atlanta to reach dirt roads leading to the construction site in the 300-foot-deep Allatoona Gorge where the dam would be built.
Writing in the Atlanta Constitution, staff writer Wellington Wright described the project: "What took place in Allatoona Gorge Saturday represents the final effort on the part of man to control the waters of the unruly Etowah and thus to use its mighty power for peace rather than for terror and destruction."
The dam originally was estimated to cost $9.8 million when first proposed in the 1930s. in October 1941, the US Bureau of Budget appropriated $14 million for the project, but the project was delayed until after World War II. When bids finally were solicited in 1946, the estimated cost had risen to more than $17.4 million. By the time the dam was completed and reservoir filling began in 1949, the dam costs totaled $31.5 million -- the equivalent of approximately $359 million in 2023 dollars.
Once the reservoir was filled, the remains of the town of Etowah -- including the ruins of the former Cooper family mansion and foundations of other buildings -- were lost to history below the 300-foot-deep waters of Lake Allatoona. Today, the furnace structure below the dam is the only remaining memory of the former industrial town.
For more on visiting Cooper's Furnace and the Allatoona Dam, check out our blog post..
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