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Tag Archives: James Wilbur

Wilbur Dam, Twice

wilbur

On the back: PLANT OF WATAUGA POWER ON WATAUGA RIVER NEAR JOHNSON CITY WHICH FURNISHES ELECTRICAL CURRENT FOR INDUSTRIAL, COMMERCIAL AND DOMESTIC PURPOSES TO THIS CITY, THE CITY OF BRISTOL AND SEVERAL SMALLER TOWNS.

This is Wilbur Dam.  The dam, fully completed and on line in 1912, actually began generating electricity on a test basis to Elizabethton on December 25, 1911, apparently making it the earliest major hydro-electric generating facility in Tennessee.  According to Jackie and Dawn Trivette Peters in Images of America – Carter County (page 101), it was named for James Wilbur, a sawmill operator “in the community”.  Thanks to Joe Penza, Archivist at the Elizabethton – Carter County Public Library,  I found out the whole story and it hinges more on the importance of a railroad name than that of a logging operator.  Joe forwarded documents to me that noted the Virginia and Southwestern Railroad Company had established a flag station and side track for the logging operation on Big Laurel Branch.  The railroad named it “Wilbur Station”. So, the dam, officially known as “Horseshoe Bend Dam”, took on the name “Wilbur Dam”.  When TVA bought the dam in 1945, the name stuck.

Dan Crowe, in his book The Horseshoe People (1976/self-published), quotes an Aunt Cass Carden as saying during the dedication of the dam ceremony, “Youngins, they’re a-burnin’ a hairpin in a bottle.”  I think she was referring to a light bulb.

Curt Teich Printing Company of Chicago began producing the (above) C.T. American Art Colored cards in 1915, using an offset printing process.   Later, in the early 1930s, using new European inks and linen-effect embossing, they brightened the cards up tremendously.  This Asheville Post Card Company card, from the 1970s, shows how the process, along with more careful and artistic photo editing of the original  black-and-white photograph, produced a much more pleasing picture.  The colors and other details were added at the facility and printed using a five-plate process:

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That suspension bridge in front of the dam was for a time the only access to the powerhouse.