TVA Rebuilds History in North Georgia

MIn partnership with the Georgia Department of Historic Preservation and Preservation Division, a noted historic-building preservation contractor, TVA engineers and historians are working to restore the beautiful powerhouse at Blue Ridge Dam.

MAY 29, 2019 — Workers doing routine maintenance on the powerhouse at TVA’s Blue Ridge Dam were surprised to find they could pull a few bricks loose from the facade of the nearly 100-year old building with their hands. After additional inspections of the building, it was apparent restoration work would be needed for the hydro-generation facility to continue providing power to the people of the Valley for another century.

The powerhouse that looks like a castle tower sits along the Toccoa River in northern Georgia. The TVA-managed waters, which a few miles downstream become the world-famous Ocoee River that was home to 1996 Olympic whitewater events, has turned the town of Blue Ridge into an important destination for those who love the outdoors, especially trout anglers and whitewater enthusiasts.

Partnering for the People

Knowing the value of the facility to the people of the area, a team of TVA engineers and historians from throughout the company with the shared vision of bringing the iconic structure back to its original condition, partnered with representatives from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Division and an experienced historic-building preservation contractor to plan the endeavor.

“We sometimes need experts who are more familiar with this type of work,” said Lisa McKinney, TVA Facilities Management director. “For this project, we called on historic building specialists to help plan and rebuild the façade. For something this important, it takes a team of people working together to do it right.”

The team’s goal is to restore the historic structure to its former glory.

“TVA is responsible for being good stewards of the environment, our facilities and the area’s history,” said McKinney. “The Blue Ridge Dam powerhouse is a unique building, so bringing it back to its original condition is the right thing to do.”

Suzanne Biddle, Central Regional Hydro Generation senior manager and one of the TVA project team partners, agreed, saying that restoring the powerhouse aligns with TVA’s mission of service. ”From its inception, TVA and its employees have worked to make life better for the people we serve,” she said. “By investing in the preservation of this historic building, we are investing in continued reliable energy for the Valley and this area’s long-term environmental and economic successes.”

From Old Comes New

Because of the age of the structure, state regulations call for restoring the building to “as-new” condition using original materials. However, since many of the materials used in building the original powerhouse in the 1920s are no longer available, Wes McDonald, TVA Facilities Management project manager for the Blue Ridge Dam powerhouse project, said returning the building to its initial condition required innovative thinking.

“The façade’s bricks were made onsite at the time the dam and the powerhouse were constructed, so we can’t buy them anywhere,” he said. “We are working safely and carefully to clean and reuse the existing bricks so the powerhouse will be as close as possible to its original condition when we complete the project later this year.”

Along with the façade brickwork, workers will replace both the original and the pink mortar used during an early 1970s restoration effort; rebuild the embattled parapet that gives the building its resemblance to a castle tower; and treat and reinforce the original steel beams at the corners of the building that are water-damaged.

“I’m still scratching my head over why anyone would use pink mortar on this beautiful building, except that it was the ‘in’ color at the time,” McDonald said, smiling. “But, when we are finished later this summer, the people of North Georgia will look with pride at the Blue Ridge Dam powerhouse and see a historic building that is good as new and ready for the next 100 years of service.”

A Little History on the Side

The Toccoa Electric Power Company, a subsidiary of the Tennessee Electric Power Company that TVA acquired in 1939, began construction of the dam in 1925 and completed it in 1930. When it went into service on July 1, 1931, Blue Ridge Dam was the most modern hydroelectric power production facility in the TEPCo system and the largest earthen dam in the southeastern United States.