Program at reservoirs on May 4 to explain about area dam concepts

This photo — originally taken by Clyde Dawson, a rural postal carrier from Lagro — shows the construction of the Salamonie Dam’s inner structure.
This photo — originally taken by Clyde Dawson, a rural postal carrier from Lagro — shows the construction of the Salamonie Dam’s inner structure. Photo provided.

"People have no concept of how it all works," says Marvin McNew, director of Upper Wabash Interpretive Services.

He is referring to Salamonie Reservoir's earth-filled dam.

But the Upper Wabash Interpretive Services team wants to change that.

On Saturday, May 4, they will host a "Reservoir Roots" slide show at both Salamonie and Mississinewa reservoirs.

The presentation features a collection of 50-year-old slides, taken by Clyde Dawson, that document the building of the dams at Salamonie, Mississinewa and Roush Lake.

The dam at Salamonie was built over the course of three years, from 1962 to its completion in 1965.

It, like the dam at Mississinewa, is earth-filled. This means it is created of compacted earth.
The dams in this area were built to prevent flooding.

Simply, a dam retains - or stores - water. Control gates, of which the Salamonie has three, measuring 5 by 16 feet, are used to manage water-flow out of the dam.

"So many people think ... they lift the gates up to let the water in instead of the other way around," says McNew.

These are exactly the misconceptions he and the interpretive team plan to correct.

"All the questions last year concerning the drought made us realize we needed to do something like this," says Laura Whiteleather.

She will be presenting the slides on May 4.

In-depth information about the dam, as well as photos of the structure during and post-construction, will be presented, including explanation of intake tubes and windows, the two 30-inch pipes that release all water on normal river flow days, the tail water and spill way areas, the intake tower and the type of machinery used to build the dams.

Other historic information and photos will be shared, including photos of a covered bridge that was in Dora, one of the three towns that were lost when the dam was built. Photos of Dora, as well as other lost towns, will be highlighted on May 4.

"There was an area of the building of the reservoirs that was not too lovely. The people that grew up on that land had to move away from it," says Whiteleather.
The photos by Dawson accurately represent the full spectrum of the build - from the cutting edge construction machinery to the displacement of people from their homes.

But the excitement didn't stop when the dam construction was finished.

Now, the reservoir offers more to the Huntington area than just flood control.

"Recreation is a byproduct," notes Whiteleather.
She says boating, fishing, camping, swimming on the beaches, backpacking, horseback riding, ice fishing, snowmobiling and cross country skiing are all part of the recreation that takes place at Salamonie Reservoir.

Wildlife management is another result of the reservoir, she says.

All the while, the reservoir is "at work, doing its job," she says.

The Wabash River carries 75 percent of Indiana's watershed, she explains.

"One inch of water covering one acre of ground is more than 27,000 gallons," she notes.

"The reservoir is something we are quite fortunate to have."

She also points out the fortuitous nature of possessing copies of Dawson's slides.

"It's quite a treasure to have copies of those slides that someone took first-hand," she says.

When Dawson was alive, Whiteleather says he presented the slides himself with what she says is an in-depth report of the reservoir's operations.

In his notes, Dawson claims that the Salamonie dam prevented $237 million of damage from being done by flooding.

The dam protects downstream communities from dangerous, and damaging, flood waters.

The "Reservoir Roots" presentation on May 4 will be in the Interpretive Center at Salamonie Reservoir at 10 a.m. and at Mississinewa's office area at 2:30 p.m.

Complete caption: This photo — originally taken by Clyde Dawson, a rural postal carrier from Lagro — shows the construction of the Salamonie Dam’s inner structure. Today the water would flow from right to left through the two 30-inch tubes sticking up from the construction. Salamonie’s earth-filled dam is 6,100 feet long and protects the area downstream from flooding. This and other photos may be seen in a slide show on May 4 at Salamonie Reservoir’s Interpretive Center.