By Michael R. Moser
Splashed in a mixture of late summer greens and early fall colors and with a sun-drenched back drop of Meadow Park Lake, guests and city dignitaries gathered at the dam bearing the same name as the lake to rededicate and celebrate completion of the renovation project.
Emceed by Crossville Mayor J.H. Graham III, special guests recognized included Diane Dorton Brown whose father, Moses E. Dorton, was a city commissioner when the decision was made to build Meadow Park Lake, L.T. Thurman Jr., son of L.T. Thurman who also served on the city commission, and Joe Lee Smith, whose father, Eston Smith, was contractor for the project.
Diane Brown remembered her father surviving the "biggest political" brouhaha up to that time when Mayor T.M. Rector, Thurman and her father voted to build the dam and lake. "The most questions asked were, 'could we afford it? ($60,000)' and 'will it become a playground for the rich?'"
She added, "No other small town had anything like it."
But three commissioners survived the political tempest and on June 25, 1939, S.C. Bishop, publisher of the Crossville Chronicle, reported a crowd of between 15,000 and 20,000 attended the event.
Crossville's population at the time was 1,500 but grew to 2,500, thanks in part to the Homesteads Project.
The gala was kicked off with a downtown parade led by an 80-piece marching band from Clarksville, followed by cars and floats. Church ladies and organizations sold baked goods at Meadow Park as a host of dignataries led by the late U.S. Sen. Albert Gore Sr. spoke at the dedication. Crossville Judge George L. Burnett served as master of ceremonies.
Followed was swimming activities with the day capped off with boat racers.
Brown noted that city officials were pushed to look for a water source alternative to wells when the Crossville area suffered a severe drought, resulting in water being brought in from Monterey by rail car.
Joe Lee Smith said some of his earliest memories are of coming to the job site with his father as work progressed on the dam. "I remember thinking at the time that was the steepest hill I had ever seen," Smith said.
The same held true for L.T. Thurman, who has many fond memories of being with his father, who took on the task of clearing trees and brush from what would become the lake bed. He recalled a particularly mean "billy goat" who thought he owned the territory.
One day the goat "got after my dad" and finally goat and dad became locked in a struggle over king of the hill, much to the amusement of those who were working with L.T. Thurman Sr. It went on for some time, L.T. Jr. says, mainly because his father "couldn't let go." The workers thoroughly enjoyed the day they watched a "city commissioner rassling with a billy goat."
Over 500 acres of land was cleared, with assistance coming in the form of labor valued at $8,000 from WPA workers in the area.
The engineering firm of Freeland and Roberts planned the project, and Wednesday Kyle Dunn and Jim Gilliam were present to represent the engineering firm that today goes by the name of Hart, Freeland and Roberts.
"It was a pleasure to work on this project," Gilliam noted. "Most of the time we tear things down, but in this case, we got to work on a project to save a piece of history that means so much to the community."
After 74 years of service to the city, the dam had become tired and worn and showed signs of needing an immediate fix. City officials mulled the situation and the state finally stepped in and insisted the aging dam be fixed. To bring the dam into compliance with the Safe Dams Act, city council acted by hiring the original engineering firm to come up with a plan to make the dam structurally sound, to modify the spillway and to renovate with future growth in mind.
Before that, however, the Crossville firm of Environmental & Civil Engineering Services was selected as primary consultant to provide a series of reports. In 2011, the renovation project was approved by council at a construction cost of $6.5 million. Brayman Construction served as the contractor.
Graham noted that the project came in "on time and under budget."
Marlene Potter serves as park superintendent for the amenities provided by the dam and surrounding area, which includes boating, fishing, camping and picnic shelters.
An advisory board called the City Lake Commission consisting of Charles Loveday and Earl Dean, co-chairmen, Doug Brady, Jim Powers, Joe Reynolds, Clarence Coffey and Clark West.
After the dedication ceremony, the gathering moved to a covered picnic shelter where a reception honoring new City Manager David Rutherford was held.
Introduced to the gathering by Graham, Rutherford took a few moment to challenge citizens to be ready to help with the city's future. A planner at heart, Rutherford said city departments are already preparing short-range and long-range plans and that the city will have opportunities for citizens to serve in advisory capacities in related planning that will be announced later.