Wilson Dam, on the Tennessee River in northwest Alabama, is the only neoclassical-style dam in the TVA system, integrating themes of ancient Roman and Greek architecture into the modern structure.
The construction of Wilson Dam began in 1918, a year after the United States entered World War I. The federal government built two nitrate plants at Muscle Shoals for the making of explosives, and Wilson Dam was constructed to supply the electricity needed to power the plants. TVA acquired Wilson Dam in 1933.
Visitors enjoy camping, boating and fishing at Wilson Reservoir, which is known as the Smallmouth Capital of the World for the trophy smallmouth bass caught there.
The dam reservation site features a network of hiking and walking paths, including Old First Quarters Small Wild Area, named after a complex that housed engineers during Wilson’s construction. Small feeder creeks run through the natural area, forming an ideal habitat for a variety of ferns, including the walking fern, a rarity in Alabama.
Wilson Reservoir—together with Pickwick and Wheeler reservoirs—covers the treacherous Muscle Shoals, which once blocked navigation on the Tennessee River.
Located off Reservation Road in Muscle Shoals, the Visitor Center is accessible year-round. Display panels near the power plant describe the struggle between private and public power interests for ownership of the Shoals facilities, which TVA acquired when the corporation was created in 1933.
Wilson: Facts + Figures
- Construction of Wilson Dam began in 1918 and was completed in 1924.
- The dam is 137 feet high and stretches 4,541 feet across the Tennessee River.
- Wilson Dam is a hydroelectric facility. It has 21 generating units with a summer net dependable capacity of 653 megawatts. Net dependable capacity is the amount of power a dam can produce on an average day, minus the electricity used by the dam itself.
- Wilson is the largest conventional hydroelectric facility in the TVA system. Only Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant near Chattanooga can generate more hydroelectric power.
- Wilson Reservoir provides 166 miles of shoreline and 15,500 acres of water surface for recreation.
- The main lock at Wilson is 110-by-600 feet. With a maximum lift of 100 feet, it is the highest single lift lock east of the Rockies. An auxiliary lock has two 60-by 300-foot chambers that operate in tandem.
- On average, 3,700 vessels pass through Wilson's locks each year.
- Wilson has a flood-storage capacity of 50,500 acre-feet.
More Information on Wilson Reservoir
The Unified Development of the Tennessee River plan
stressed TVA was to provide flood control, navigation and electricity for the region. TVA’s dams are tangible evidence of its primary mission: improving life in the Tennessee Valley. We’re celebrating the plan with an in-depth look at 32 of the dams it comprises.
A Dam for the People
Wilson Dam was built for WWI, but the war ended before it could spin up its turbines. After years spent in limbo, the dam gained new purpose with the founding of TVA. Read more about the history of Wilson Dam.