Pickwick Dam and Reservoir promised to transform the rural, poor area into opportunities of hydroelectric power, economic development, conservation, recreation and flood control for a better way of life, state and regional officials declared.
Turns out, they were right. The TVA Act "experiment" signed into law in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to build a series of dams in the Tennessee Valley remains a success story today, state and local leaders agreed on Thursday as Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) celebrates the 75th anniversary of Pickwick Dam.
"Much of what public officials said then (in 1940) holds true today," said Patricia Bernard Ezzell, TVA Tribal Liaison and Corporate Historian. "Pickwick Dam changed the quality of life ... TVA continues to be vital to the region. It's mission remains relevant today."
Ezzell's history lesson and slide show was a part of an invitation-only, hour-long program at the dam to recognize TVA's dedicated employees, thank others for their support and cooperation, celebrate the success of Pickwick Dam and honor area electric cooperatives who use power from Pickwick, including those in Tishomingo, Hardin and McNairy counties.
The Alcorn County Electric Power Association doesn't get it's power from Pickwick.
Since the dam powerhouse and two lock have been closed to the public since 9-11, tours were offered to those in attendance.
Other speakers included Paul Phelan and Amy Tate in TVA Relations; Hardin County Mayor Kevin Davis; John McCormick, Vice-President of River Operations for TVA; and Major Brad Morgan, Deputy District Commander of the Nashville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Ezzell's statistics told of the magnitude of the project during construction on the dam and lake from 1935-1938. There were 2,300 workers to build the dam and employment reached a total of 4,000 to clear the land for the lake, said Ezzell.
It took 10 million man hours to build the dam and 12,000 acres had to be cleared for the lake, she said.
The dam and reservoir came with a sacrifice. There were 10 fatalities during construction of the dam and 506 families had to relocate due to the lake, noted the TVA historian.
Pickwick Village included a hospital, school, cafeteria, housing and a library, noted Ezzell during the slide show.
At full capacity, then hydropower produced by Pickwick's six units can power about 134,000 average Tennessee Valley homes with "clean American energy," noted John McCormick, TVA's Vice-President of River Operations.
He repeated the "clean American energy" phrase many times, a phrase taken from a letter read to the group from U.S. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi.
"The phrase says it all," noted McCormick.
Despite being 75 years old, Pickwick's six generators continue to be efficient, he said, producing a record 18.5 million mega-watt hours of power this year, enough to support 1.2 million homes.
"We've had a record year," he said.
McCormick noted the jobs produced for the area as a result of TVA and Pickwick Lake -- "it fills restaurants and motels" -- and its long mission to produce low-cost energy.
He said officials from foreign counties often tour Pickwick to learn more on how to produce low cost hydropower.
The river operations official praised the partnership and cooperation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the locks.
Mayor Brad Morgan, Corps Deputy District Commander, said shipping by barge continues to be more efficient than rail or truck.
Pickwick is the largest lock in the TVA system, noted Morgan, and goods passing through end up as far north to Chicago and south via the Tenn-Tom Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico and international destinations.
Ezzell reflected on the way of life of the area in the 1930s compared to what remains today.
"TVA transformed the way of life for the area," added Ezzell.