Sep 22 2008
11:16 am

Upper section of Chilhowee Lake. All of this was underwater
three weeks ago.

Alcoa Power Generating Inc. Tapoco Division is drawing down Chilhowee Lake to make repairs to settlements of an earthen part of the dam. The 20-25 foot drawdown began on Sept. 2, and appears to be almost complete. Alcoa expects to finish repairs by late this year or early next year.

The effects are most noticeable on the upper part of the reservoir, where the original Little Tennessee river bed is almost completely exposed. The lake bed is remarkably clean, with very little silt sediment and not much junk except around bridges and boat ramps. Blount and Monroe County law enforcement officials have pulled out several stolen cars that were exposed by the drawdown. Someone told us there's at least one still visible, upside down with the wheels exposed.

There were hundreds of sightseers out yesterday, more people than I think I've ever seen at Chilhowee Lake at one time. They were parked at every pullout and boat launch, gawking at the exposed lake bed and structures that some had never seen in their lifetime and others remember from the "old days" before the lake was impounded in 1957. Many were walking along the old 129 road bed, which has been underwater for 51 years, some looking for artifacts of one kind or another.

More photos after the jump...

Sunken boat, Chilogatee Branch cove at Happy Hollow

Old 129 bridge and road bed exposed, as seen from the new 129 bridge over the mouth of Abrams Creek. I've night fished off that bridge many times (and jumped off it a few times) and never knew the old bridge and roadway were down there. It's in excellent condition considering it has been underwater for 51 years. The box looking thing is a rusty old pickup truck bed. No idea how it got there. I assume the other pilings were for a railroad bridge?

The view up Abrams Creek cove from the 129 bridge

Looking up the lake from the 129 bridge over Abrams Creek. Not sure what the exposed rock structures are. An old rock fence, road bed, not sure. But I've sure never seen it before.

View of the upper section of Chilhowee Lake from near the Tabcat Creek bridge. By this point the lake is mostly gone and you can see the original Little Tennessee River bed and what was presumably the old 129 road bed.

The Tabcat boat ramp is closed, needless to say. They are still allowing hand-carried, non-powered boats out on what's left of the reservoir. We saw one canoe out there.

Another view of the upper section of Chilhowee Lake from the old exposed road bed at Tabcat Creek.

Same area, looking down the lake in the other direction.

Same area, looking out over drying lake bed. It's still pretty muddy, though, and there are some deep boot prints where people have tried to walk out on it. It doesn't look like they got very far.

129 bridge over Tabcat Creek

Chilhowee Dam. Repairs will be made on the earthen part on the far side.

Close up of the sluice gates. We used to tie our boat up just underneath the sign that says "Warning Keep Away From Dam" to night fish. It has lights on it that attracted bait fish which attracted trout. We caught hundreds of them there. If it rained you could tie the boat up underneath the dam and stay dry. From there you could look out over the top of the steel sluice gates on the other side. To give you an idea how low the water is, at full pool you'd have to duck down to pull your boat under the steel beams.

bizgrrl's picture

We used to tie our boat up

We used to tie our boat up just underneath the sign that says "Warning Keep Away From Dam" to night fish.

I went along only once. Very, very spooky to be tied up to a dam.

WhitesCreek's picture

You should try it again.

You should try it again. Lots of people are nervous the first time..Oh, wait...My bad. I thought you said "tied up by a Dom."

talidapali's picture



"You can't fix stupid..." ~ Ron White"
"I never said I wasn't a brat..." ~ Talidapali

bizgrrl's picture

We spent a lot of time up

We spent a lot of time up there prior to 1983. It is/was a beautiful lake with very cold water. Back then it was not heavily visited (don't know about since then) and very serene.

Seeing the lake drawn down is quite fascinating. For anyone who knows the lake, check it out. Quite incredible.

Justin's picture

Really cool pics. Thanks!

Really cool pics. Thanks!

Brian A.'s picture

Interesting. So the lake

Interesting. So the lake level will remain down like that for another couple months or so? I should get down there to see it.

Brian A.
I'd rather be cycling.

R. Neal's picture

Yes, until late 2008 or

Yes, until late 2008 or early 2009 according to Alcoa. It's worth a trip.

David Fowler Cooper's picture

Old railroad ran to Tapoco,

Old railroad ran to Tapoco, NC to build the first Alcoa dam in 1917. My Mother was from Robbinsville, NC. She told me she could remember riding from Tapoco to Maryville with my grandparents on the train.

S Carpenter's picture


I'll need to put a kayak in to explore further this Fall.

Charles Choat's picture

L&N Line

That Railroad bridge was part of the old L&N line that ran from Knoxville thru Maryville and on to the Greenback Station. Then it ran up to the lake. It use to deliver supplies and passengers to the Calderwood station and also ran workers and supplies up to build the dams (as mentioned above).

This is the road system that was once the community of Calderwood. Further North on the lake you should be able to see what remains of it. When the lake was full you could take a boat almost up to the power house, and you could see the roads under the water. The water up around the power house was very shallow. I haven't made my way down there yet, but I bet if you went up 129 to the power house entrance, you could probably get a better view of the sunken town of Calderwood. They close the gate at 3:00 pm though.

Michelle's picture

old home places

For those of you who have already been to check out the lake bed, are there any old homes still standing? Or is it just fences, bridges, and such?

Ed Farmer's picture

There are a few old

There are a few old foundations that can be seen, but nothing standing but a stacked stone chimney where one home once stood. You can't see it from the road.

S Carpenter's picture

View from a kayak

My wife and I paddled around the mouth of Abrams Creek on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It was a pretty long walk to hand carry a boat and pretty muddy too. When we came back in and we found the level had dropped to create a 10 foot mud pit between water and "dry" land.

Out on the water we saw the hand laid wall pictured at a distance in R.Neal's photos.

a little closer

The unsunken bridge has nice lines

We paddled underneath it and up Abrams Creek where we found the end of the impoundment and the new beginning of the creek. We found it less than a mile up. When the dam is at normal levels it's about 2.

On the way back out of the creek, you can see the relative bridge height at pre-dam and post-dam levels.

On the unsunken high spots and along the long stone wall, you see many cut stumps of large trees. I wonder if they got them for timber just before they were flooded by the new dam?

This tree's stump and roots caught my wife's eye.

It was a fun expedition. The water was smooth as glass. I wished we'd found a sunken boat.

R. Neal's picture

Excellent photos. Thanks!

Excellent photos. Thanks!

Justin's picture

Love the pics. I cant

Love the pics. I cant believe the condition of the old bridge...looks like you could still drive on it.

S Carpenter's picture

3 more and ?

One Knoxviewer mentioned a standing chimney. Can you identify a general location? I'd like to paddle it again up river soon.

Justin, I only saw the underside and side of the bridge but it looks pretty good.

The road side "guardrail" was evident if not intact in many sections. While building the higher road they pushed the slag rock off onto the old road bed.

The guardrail held against the crush of rocks sometimes. How does metal stretch like that?

And, R. Neal, thanks again for the original post.

SteveMule's picture

Tech question

How'd you post pics in your reply? I tried to do that in reply to another thread and couldn't get it to work!
Oh, and you're pics are great! I wish I was there to see all this in person.

Take Care, Be Good and don't play in the street!


S Carpenter's picture

linking pics


Linking to a photo requires that the picture be available somewhere on the internet. In which case, you link to it using the first button (tiny picture of a sunset).

Glad you enjoyed them.


SteveMule's picture


OK! So that was what was wrong. My pictures were on my computer, not the web. Thanks for clearing that up.

Take Care, Be Good and don't play in the street!


bizgrrl's picture

Great pics! Fascinating.

Great pics! Fascinating.

Ryan13's picture

A word of warning to anyone

A word of warning to anyone venturing up there. My girlfriend and I decided to go to the other side of the river to check it out. As we started to cross back, they release water into Chilhowee. The two of us and her dog all nearly drowned (quite literally) as the water is ice cold, the current gets very swift, and the water level rises much faster than you realize. It would only be a temporary release into the lake from Calderwood/Fontana at this point, so keep an eye open and wait it out if you see it happening.

THUSKEY's picture



Bill McWillie's picture

What is the status.......

I love everyones pictures and I am in amazement. My grandfather lived most of his life in Maryville and I spent every summer with him till about 1979. He passed away fall 1980. Seeing these wonderful pictures brings back the best memories of my life. I spent every summer on this lake; camping, fishing, and even learned to ski on Chilhowee. I am coming back this summer, June 10th 2009, for the first time in 29 years. I have so been looking forward to taking my daughters to see this wonderful and beautiful lake for the first time and really hope it is back to "normal". Does anyone know the status of the lake? I have searched and searched but cannot find any updated information. Any information would be appreciated. feel free to e-mail me at Bill

bizgrrl's picture

All is back to normal on

redmondkr's picture

Bill, You may be interested


You may be interested in doing a search at Here is what I came up with by entering 'Chilhowee Lake' in their search field.

Put them in a slide show and enjoy.

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