The 220-mile Catawba River, rising in the Appalachian Mountains and draining into the Carolina Piedmont, is the most important river in Mecklenburg County. When the first white explorers arrived here in the 1750s, they found about 5,000 natives who belonged to a branch of the Sioux tribe known as the Catawba, living in several villages along "the Great River." The first crossing of the river in the county was the Tuckasegee Ford, which carried traders and settlers over the Catawba. By 1900, James Buchanan Duke began buying water sites along the river, convinced that dams along its span would provide enormous potential for hydroelectric power. This picture from 1928 shows the grand opening of a new bridge across the Catawba from Charlotte to Gaston County. The bridge was part of Wilkinson Boulevard, the first four-lane paved highway in the state, which opened in 1926 and was considered the western point of entry into the city until Interstate 85 was built.
Over the years, the Catawba has become even more important to the history and development of the region. Several mill owners, who had previously used steam power, began to see the benefits of hydroelectric energy, and Duke Power began to build dams and power pants all along the river. Three major natural lakes were formed by damming the waters of the Catawba, including Lake Norman, from 1959 to 1964. The largest man-made body of freshwater in North Carolina, Lake Norman is home to several communities that have sprung up around it, and has become a popular vacation spot as well as the home of chic residential neighborhoods. Duke Power now manages eleven reservoirs on the Catawba that feed hydroelectric, coal-fired, and nuclear power plants, and the river and its lakes also supply water to more than twenty municipal systems.
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
Charlotte Then and Now, Brandon Lunsford, 2013.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass