Perseverance pays off like water over a dam

Published Wednesday, November 23, 2005 in the Holyoke Plus section in The Republican. Go to for more interesting stories.

The second dam, known as the “Old Dam,” was well built,” according to engineers.

In 1849, the men of the Hadley Falls Co. would not be deterred. George Lyman, Edmund Dwight, William Appleton, Samuel Cabot and Ignatius Sergeant called a meeting in Boston five days after their newly built dam collapsed. While the men were pleased that there weren’t any injuries or fatalities, they were dismayed to incur $30,000 in damages. They had originally spent more than $70,000 to construct the dam and $2 million purchasing the land.

Now, they wanted to know why their dam had burst. Structural engineers John Chase and Philander Anderson, explained the “imperfections by which the destruction was occasioned.”

After extensive research, the Hadley Falls Co. released a report in 1853 for their stockholders, “It was first contemplated to throw across the river a temporary dam, which, while it would serve as a protection to the erection of one more substantial below it, would answer the purposes of the company until such a permanent (one) built with less regard to strength than the result proved would have been prudent.

It was not able to resist the force of the river and was carried away a few hours after the gates were closed. The shutting of the gates occurred earlier than had been designed, in consequence of a freshet in the river.”

The Hadley Falls Co. wanted to make sure they profited from their mistakes, so they rehired Chase and Anderson to construct a stronger dam with a better design. Chase was eager to rectify the firm’s earlier debacle.

“My calculations and my reasoning are based upon the supposition that the Directors may as soon as the dam is completed, commence the construction of a stone dam.” He believed that a wooden dam would hold for a year and that two dams constructed in this way would not be much greater than the construction of a single dam in the conventional way.

An engineer of the water power company said, “The collapse of the dam was a good thing because the cofferdam upstream from the gatehouse was rapidly loosening and the head gates were not in their grooves; and the upper level canal was not yet completed.

“If this cofferdam had given way the whole river would have been let loose on the site of the projected city causing incalculable damage,” according to Wyatt E. Harper, a History of the City which can be found at the Holyoke Public Library.

The construction of the second dam took only seven months to build. It was started in April 1849 and completed in October of the same year. According to Edwin L. Kirtland’s article in the New England Magazine published in February of 1898, “Mr. Philander Anderson advised that the timbers and planks be bolted together and weighted with rocks and gravel. Facilitated by means of cofferdams extending at first two hundred feet into the river from either bank” The work progressed throughout the calm summer waters. Along the upper part of the permanent structure gates each 16 feet wide and 18 feet long, had been provided and left open for escape of the water during construction.

“When the work was complete, at a given sign at half-past twelve, all these gates were simultaneously closed, the pent-up waters rose against the new dam and the rocky bed of the rapid below once more became bare.”

Some 6,000 spectators visited the scene, more than on the former occasion; but the new work cost about $150,000, and was destined to prove its sufficiency against a lateral pressure of nearly 25 million pounds and a vertical pressure three times as great.

By 10 a.m., the water reached the crest of the dam, and by 11 a.m., it had acquired a full head and poured down the perpendicular face in one unbroken sheet, producing at first such heavy vibrations as to rattle window and doors in South Hadley Falls.

This wooden dam held up for a century and served as a buffer for when the stone dam was finally built. After the dam was built and held, a large celebratory ball was held in the offices of the company.

The Hadley Falls men finally had their extraordinary moment in time. They had accomplished their goal: a working dam to power the enormous industry of their paper mills.

In next month’s column, she will travel through a moment in time to show how the dam changed the landscape of the new city.

© 2006 The Republican. All rights reserved. Used with permission