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Kentucky Dam History

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The Beginning with the Flood of 1937

In 1937 a terrible flood struck the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys. The flood caused devastation to communities, farms, and families, causing some to temporary relocate. The following year, in 1938, five years after the Tennessee Valley Authority was created, TVA told people living on the banks of the Tennessee River in Kentucky that they would have to relocate once again.  Only this time, it was permanent.

Kentucky Dam's Location

Prior to the Flood of 1937, area communities and leaders were lobbying for a dam to be constructed at Aurora as early as the 1920s.  In fact, Kentucky Dam was almost built at Aurora.  Can you imagine if that had happened?  However, Gilbertsville was picked over Aurora (and Birmingham, KY) because the geology of the area was better.

The dam was started in 1938 and was completed in 1944. It began holding back the waters of the Tennessee River.  Slowly the river flooded its banks and crept higher and higher. Now, the flooded Tennessee River, known as Kentucky Lake, stands about 55 feet higher than the original river.  See photos of the construction of Kentucky Dam.

Kentucky Lake's 'Archaeology'

When Kentucky Lake was created back during World War II, many farms, homes, towns, roads, and railroads had to be relocated. The most notable community to be affected was Birmingham. Roads that were affected include US 62, US 68, US 79, Kentucky 58, Kentucky 80, Kentucky 94, and several others.

Railroads relocated include the Illinois Central (now Paducah & Louisville Railroad) and the now-abandoned Louisville & Nashville. The current of Kentucky Lake have now wiped out many of the remnants of roads and foundations, but you can see an old railroad line in this photograph at right from space courtesy of the US Geological Survey taken in late 1998.

Using Google Maps' aerial photography as well as Bing's "birds eye" view, you can explore many remnants that can be found under the water or along the shores of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.  An example from Bing's Maps is below.  Here you can see remnants of US 79 near the Paris Landing State Park Golf Course.

Old US Highway 79  

Photo by Jill Asher

The Elk and Bison Prairie in Land Between The Lakes is one of the most popular attractions for visitors year-round.