By Lee Roberts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 18, 2018) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District is celebrating its 130th anniversary in 2018. The Nashville District formed from the Chattanooga District to construct a series of locks and dams on the Cumberland River. Army Special Order 191 created the district Aug. 18, 1888, and Lt. Col. John W. Barlow took command.
The first district office opened Oct. 1, 1888 at 609 Broad Street in Nashville in the Trousdale Building, now demolished. The office was moved to the northwest corner of 8th Avenue in 1891, where it remained until 1906. It then moved to the Federal Office Building on the southwest corner of 8th and Broadway. The formation of the Nashville District in 1888 occurred in support of development of the lower Cumberland River, and led to the construction of the old locks above and below Nashville.
The Chattanooga District continued to operate and constructed Wilson Dam in Florence, Ala., in the 1920s. It continued to develop the Tennessee River Basin until the Tennessee Valley Authority assumed the mission in 1933. Today, the Nashville District is responsible for navigation and regulatory functions in the Tennessee River Basin and enjoys a great partnership with TVA in the region.
Former Nashville District Commander Col. Robert K. Tener wrote in the foreword of the book titled “Engineers on the Twin Rivers,” authored by Dr. Leland Johnson, that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Nashville District have had an important role throughout the last two centuries as the Cumberland and Tennessee River basins have evolved. He wrote that from exploration to efforts to make the rivers more navigable to pioneering canalization projects to the modern era projects, the Army engineers have had far-reaching impacts on regional development.
“The Nashville District has been a human institution responsive to human needs,” Tener wrote. “Its history is therefore intrinsically human, with all the turbulence, adventure and humor which that implies.”
Today the Nashville District is responsible for directing all water resources activities of the Corps throughout the Cumberland River Basin, and navigation and regulatory matters in the Tennessee River Basin. The District’s Construction and Operations program is spread throughout a 59,000 square mile area that touches seven states.
In the Cumberland River Basin, the Nashville District operates and maintains 10 multi-purpose dam projects for navigation, flood damage reduction, hydropower, water quality, environmental stewardship, and recreation. Nine of the dams generate hydroelectric power. The district operates and maintains four navigation locks on the Cumberland River, and 14 locks on the Tennessee River and one on the Clinch River at 10 Tennessee Valley Authority dams. The district is responsible for 1,175 commercially navigable river miles, almost 10 percent of the total within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The district’s Cumberland River Basin projects provide a great economic impact to the region. In 2016, 52 commercial concessionaires (with 17,590 marina slips), four state parks and one metro Nashville marina produced $102,791,472.33 in gross receipts and returned more than $2.6 million to the U.S. Treasury in rent payments for all leases. The Treasury returned approximately $2 million to local communities.
More than 21 million visitors recreate each year at the Nashville District’s 10 lakes, 273 recreation areas, 108 playgrounds, 72 swim areas, 104 hiking trails, 108 picnic sites, 25 campgrounds and 3,203 campsites.
Park rangers in the Nashville District manage 336,106 acres of public lands, 3,800 miles of shoreline and 201,385 water acres with 22 fishing docks and 281 boat ramps.
“This remarkable stewardship is a huge undertaking for the park rangers and maintenance staffs,” said Mark Klimaszewski, natural resource specialist. “But they are very professional and do a tremendous job maintaining recreation facilities and educating the public about the projects and water safety. It means a lot to them when visitors have fun but stay safe during their stay.”
The mission of the Nashville District reaches beyond its recreation amenities. More than 700 civilians and U.S. Army officers of the Nashville District serve the region, the Corps, and the nation by providing collaborative water resource engineering solutions, world class public infrastructure management, and environmental stewardship for the Cumberland-Tennessee River systems.
In recent history, the Nashville District constructed several historical and newsworthy projects, including the northern 29 miles of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway from Whitten Lock to the Tennessee River. The Mobile District and Nashville District, 125 prime contractors and 1,200 subcontractors worked on the overall waterway. The 10 locks and five dams required a total of 2.2 million cubic yards of concrete and 33,000 tons of reinforcing steel. The project, dedicated in 1985, is the largest civil works project ever constructed in the United States.
The Nashville District also completed another notable project in 1992, the construction of four 2000-foot tunnels through a mountain to divert flows from Clover Fork of the Cumberland River around the City of Harlan, Ky. Other phases of the project were completed by 1999, which included a 4,000-foot floodwall protecting Harlan, and the diversion of the Cumberland River around Loyall, Ky.
Since 1990s the district has worked on several dam safety flood risk management and navigation projects, and continues its work today with the replacement of Chickamauga Lock in Chattanooga, Tenn., and construction of a larger additional lock at Kentucky Lock in Grand Rivers, Ky.
From 2007 to 2013 construction workers installed a 4,000-foot-long barrier wall deep into the foundation of the embankment at Wolf Creek Dam in Jamestown, Ky. The district placed the last of 1,197 concrete piles March 6, 2013, which were installed as deep as 275 feet, with 300,000 cubic yards of concrete used to stop seepage through the embankment. The Nashville District placed enough concrete during the project to build a sidewalk four or five feet wide from the dam to Washington D.C.
A similar dam safety related project at Center Hill Dam in Lancaster, Tenn., continues with the current construction of a concrete reinforcing berm downstream of the auxiliary dam. The district already completed the installation of a concrete barrier wall in the main dam to stop seepage through its embankment.
“The people who have worked and served the nation in the Nashville District have a rich history of service and continue to serve the region with pride,” said Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, Nashville District commander. “As we celebrate our 130th anniversary, it’s a fitting time to reflect on the role the Corps of Engineers played in the development of the Cumberland and Tennessee River basins. It’s also fitting to highlight how the district continues to deliver the program for civil works and construction projects, and to note other important missions the Nashville District supports throughout the region today.”
Information about the 130th anniversary, a historic milestone, is available on the district’s public web page at www.lrn.usace.army.mil/130. The web page includes resources, historical information, vignettes, and timeline where photos will be posted throughout the year.