From yesterday to today, Lake Lanier shapes the local community

Beginning of the lake’s history, the dam began with securing funding, selecting the site

This is the first article in a series recounting the history of Lake Lanier and the Buford Dam and coinciding with a special exhibit on Lake Lanier presented by the Sugar Hill Historic Preservation Society at the Town’s History Museum through ‘to 23 August.

With all the recent publicity surrounding Lake Lanier, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish what is factual about the lake. Videos appear on YouTube and TikTok making claims about the origins of the lake and even why so many people are dying on the lake, which is the most visited lake of all the US Army Corps of Engineers operates in. the country. Lake Lanier sees an estimated 11.8 million people visit the 692 miles of shore each year.

The research was carried out by people who were passionate about sharing the facts of the lake with the public. One such person is Robert David Coughlin, author of “Lake Sidney Lanier ‘A Storybook Site’: The Early History & Construction of Buford Dam”. The 440-page book explores the early history and construction of the Buford Dam, including why the lake was built and why the location was chosen.

Coughlin recently made a presentation at an event hosted by the Sugar Hill Historic Preservation Society at the Sugar Hill History Museum. He was able to talk about the early years of Lake Lanier and the reasons the lake was built, why the location of the dam and the lake was chosen, the relocation of families with properties on Chemin du Lac and the construction of the barrage .

In the 1940s, authorities began talking about building a major reservoir on the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta. The new reservoir was to help control flooding, generate electricity, provide a reliable water supply, facilitate downstream navigation and, lastly, provide recreation.

Supporters of building the new reservoir had to lead the battle to the United States Capitol and convince Congress to fund the project. In 1949, the Mayor of Atlanta, William Berry Hartsfield, brought a contingent of prominent northern Georgians, including H. Paul Dover, Weldon Archer, H. Jack Turner and Stanley Allen, from Buford to Washington, DC, to testify before a Senate supply subcommittee. Several members of Congress from Georgia continued to fight for the necessary funding for the project. Local daily residents were also instrumental in funding the project, including Buford’s insurance agent Weldon Gardner; Buford Town Manager Jack Turner; Superintendent of Schools for the Town of Buford, AI Clark; and Buford lawyer Joe Cheeley. In total, the Buford Dam and Sidney Lanier Lake project cost nearly $ 45 million, which would equate to nearly $ 450 million today.

Two sites were considered for the establishment of the dam of the new reservoir along the Chattahoochee River. In the original proposal, the US Army Corps of Engineers had the dam site for what would be the northernmost dam on the Chattahoochee River at Roswell. However, in 1946 the proposal was redone with the dam site at Buford instead.

The proposal mentioned that the dam being built in Roswell would require the relocation of more families and infrastructure, including highways and railroads, which would cost significantly more than building the dam in Buford. Another major concern was having adequate and constant water flow at Morgan Falls, a Georgia Power hydroelectric facility just south of Roswell. The plant was not designed to handle the variable flow that would result from the construction of a dam at Roswell.

Buford was chosen as the site for the construction of the new dam. Buford and the area to the north that would be affected by its construction was primarily rural farmland during the 1940s and 1950s. No incorporated towns would be affected, however, smaller communities would. Construction in Buford would impact 250 families, far less than in Roswell. The river bed and surrounding topography were perfect for the construction of the dam and the structure of the power plant and the earth dam that followed.

The acquisition of plots began in 1954 and lasted for several years. Hundreds of families, black and white, have been forced to relocate, six churches and 20 cemeteries have been relocated, 15 businesses have had to relocate or close, bridges and other infrastructure in the area have been covered with water as well as thousands of acres of forest land. In total, over 50,000 acres have been purchased from residents of Hall, Gwinnett, Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties.

Mr. HE Shadburn was the first person to sell his land to the US Army Corps of Engineers to make way for the tank. He owned 99.24 acres in Forsyth County, which is described as “undulating over lowlands to moderately rolling hills over some of the cultivable land.” Shadburn sold his property on April 13, 1954 for $ 4,100.

This acquisition process lasted for years, along with the relocation of structures, graves and more, continuing after the dam construction was completed. When the lake reached a certain depth, the crews circled the lake with saws and cut the trees at the waterline. Structures such as brick or stone buildings, including a stone house, a brick gas station, and the Looper Racecourse, all remain under the waters of Lake Sidney Lanier.

Once the land had been acquired, construction of the actual dam could begin.

The next articles in this series exploring the history of Buford Dam and Lake Lanier will delve into the groundbreaking ceremony, the construction of the saddle dikes and the spillway, the excavation of the upstream basin and the construction of the water intake. , construction of the earth dam and relocation of bridges and highways. impacted by the project.

Growing up around Lake Lanier instills respect for what lies below

For many local residents, growing up in Buford was synonymous with growing up on Lake Lanier. This ringed true for me and many of my friends as we grew up in the 80s and 90s in Buford and Sugar Hill. The lake gave us endless summers of fun in the sun, countless memories created, lessons learned and legends heard.

As far back as I can remember, I had memories that included Lake Lanier or the Chattahoochee River. In my mind I see snippets of views of the lake from Buford Dam, the campsite where we camped one summer, worms and fishing rods, my friend’s pontoon, dead fish, West’s swings Bank Park, me on a tube pulled behind a boat and enjoying the Islands Water Park.

Today, Lake Lanier is an attraction for residents and travelers alike, Margaritaville bringing guests to the shores with its water park and other amenities. Photo by Alicia Couch Payne

Every summer my family, friends, myself and the lake involved to some extent. For years, my mom has gifted us with seasonal passes to the Lake Lanier Islands Water Park, which is now known as Margaritaville. We spent the whole summer playing in this park. I remember getting so much tan and for someone like me that’s a lot of time in the sun to accomplish this because I’m quite pale.

I had family and friends with boats, so my sister, friends and I learned early on how to navigate the lake, the dangers to watch out for, general boating rules etc. I am by nature a competitive person. One summer day, when I was about 12, my friends and I got out on their boat. We spent the day tubing on the lake. It was not a leisure activity where you are just pulled into the tube at a leisurely pace. No, it was my friend’s family doing their best to knock us off the metro.

Person after person was being thrown from the tube in the middle of the lake. We all teased each other while having fun. It was my turn and being the smallest in my group I had an unfair advantage that I capitalized on. Being so small, I was always able to wedge myself inside the tube.

I swam to the tube, pulled myself up on it, stuck myself firmly inside, and signaled that I was ready to let the fun begin. We were gone and I was going back and forth behind the boat as the driver hopped over the waves made by other passing boats and they made sharp turns that would quickly slide your tube over the water.

After a particularly insane stunt from the driver where he hit a wave as he was spinning, I went up in the air in the tube. The driver slowed the boat down and started to reverse to locate me in the water. Imagine their shock when they realized I was still inside the tube. The looks on their faces were priceless and I felt so smug that I was never knocked out of the tube.

I had a lot of motivation not to want to find myself alone in the middle of the lake waiting on the boat for him to come back to pick me up. I grew up listening to older generations talk about the lake. They told me about the lake being built, what was demolished, what was left under the lake, the people who had disappeared around the lake and the giant catfish that roamed its depths. I was told about the relocation of cemeteries and the fact that there were small family cemeteries where the graves were not marked so the government did not know how to move those graves.

Even with these stories, I still managed to enjoy my time at the lake. I just spent most of my time on a boat or a float. If I was stuck in the middle of the lake without a float I would squirm all the time praying to the giant fish or who knows what else didn’t come from the depths to bother me.

When I was a kid our imaginations were wild, so after listening to men like Glad Sudderth talk about the lake, it’s no wonder I was afraid that something would arise from the depths to bite my butt.

Thinking back to my time on the lake, I realize how much I have learned. Many natives of the region around the lake learned from an early age to respect the lake. It’s beautiful and fun but deceptive. You can quickly spend the time of your life fighting for your life.

With each passing year, I read more and more drownings on the lake. I realized that the drowning people are not from here. They go out on the lake, underestimate him and get into trouble.

The natives learn to determine the depth of water simply by looking at its color. We know the lake can go from four feet of water to over 20 feet in a flash. We know what lies beneath the surface, such as trees and fishing lines. We also know it may feel like a short swim across the creek or to this island, but it’s actually quite a distance. We know how to wear a life jacket if we are in the water above our heads. We’d rather look a little silly now than never see another day.

Lake Lanier was a wonderful place to spend our summers growing up. This is always the case, as long as we respect the lake.