Isolated Apalachia Dam made a big contribution to wartime airplane construction. Today, it’s an off-the-beaten-path paradise for trout fishermen looking for big catches and scenic views.
When the U.S. entered WWII in 1941, the country was woefully short on one much-needed supply: aluminum for aircraft production. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for 50,000 planes to be produced within a year. The catch? To produce the aluminum needed for planes, a large amount of electricity was required.
TVA stepped in to fill that bill.
One of the largest hydropower construction programs to be undertaken in U.S. history was soon launched by TVA. When the program reached its peak in 1942, 12 hydroelectric plants were under construction. One of the plants being constructed was Apalachia Dam—the largest of four projects on the Hiwassee River system authorized by Congress to provide power for war material production. (The other dams on the Hiwassee included Hiwassee, Chatuge and Nottley.)
The first of two 37,500-kilowatt units at the Apalachia powerhouse was placed in commercial operation on Sept. 22, 1943, and the second on Nov. 17, 1943. By the end of that year, these units had produced 132,909,000 kilowatt-hours of energy—an average output of 55,300 kilowatts. By 1944, with the help of hydroelectric plants like Apalachia, the U.S. was cranking out 96,000 airplanes annually.
Located on the Hiwassee River in Cherokee County, North Carolina, Apalachia Dam was an obscure little dam to be such a key player in war material production. Described in a May 1943 article in the Asheville Citizen as “tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina, off from the usual travel routes, so that few but the men who built it have seen it,” the dam is located in a remote, scenic part of the state, well off the beaten path.
The powerhouse is no different. Situated 13 river miles downstream in Polk County, Tenn., in a sparsely settled and isolated mountain region, the site presented logistical challenges even for employees. Because nearly no housing was available within a 25-mile radius of the powerhouse, and daily commuting from that distance was not feasible at the time of construction because of war-mandated gasoline and tire rationing, TVA provided family housing for the powerhouse’s operating personnel. A small settlement named Smith Creek Village was built in 1942 to house employees.
After the war, travel restrictions were lifted and all but three of the employees stationed at the powerhouse moved from Smith Creek Village, opting to commute to work daily from distant towns. With no paved roads, they used a treacherous forest trail to get to the powerhouse, parking their cars on one side of the Hiwassee and crossing the river in a rowboat. A footbridge was soon constructed across the river for easier access to the powerhouse and improvements were then made to the access road.
Apalachia Dam today is still a power producer, but its days assisting the war effort are long gone. While much has changed, the area surrounding the dam and reservoir remains secluded, providing outdoor enthusiasts a private oasis. For those with a knack for fishing, Apalachia Reservoir proves to be a perfect rustic getaway, with 31 miles of waterfront and plenty of big-catch potential.
The deep, cool-water reservoir was recently stocked with thousands of trout as part of a research effort with hopes the lake will eventually become a trophy trout fishery. Because of its remote location, relatively few anglers use the reservoir, meaning that there is little competition. In addition to fishing, the area provides a picturesque backdrop for hiking, canoeing and primitive camping.