A History of Lake Norman by Chuck McShaneJournalist and historian Chuck McShane traces the triumphs and troubles of Lake Norman from the region's colonial beginnings to its modern incarnation. On a muggy September day in 1959, North Carolina governor Luther Hodges set off the first charge of dynamite for the Cowan's Ford Dam project. The dam channeled Catawba River waters into the largest lake in North Carolina: Lake Norman. The project was the culmination of James Buchanan Duke's dream of an electrified South and the beginning of the region's future. Over the years, the area around Lake Norman transformed from a countryside of cornstalks and cattle fields to an elite suburb full of luxurious subdivisions and thirty-five-foot sailboats.
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A Brief History
A Growing Piedmont
In the decades leading up to the 1950s, Duke Power (previously known as Southern Power and now known as Duke Energy) noted the rapid increase in private and commercial requests for electrical power. The company stated that in order to meet these demands, they needed to construct a new hydroelectric dam along the Catawba River. This dam would be part of a larger chain of hydroelectric power plants and nuclear stations along the Catawba-Wateree River Basin.
Building of the Dam
Construction of Cowans Ford Dam began along the Catawba River after Duke Power received the license for its fabrication in 1958. The dam was officially completed in 1963, creating Lake Norman by year's end. The structure earns its name from the geographical feature it now covers - Cowan's Ford.
Cowan's Ford is perhaps best known as the site where General William Lee Davidson, the namesake of Davidson College, died in 1781 during a Revolutionary War battle against Lord Cornwallis.
Lake Norman spans over 30,000 acres and boasts over 500 miles of shoreline along the Mecklenburg, Lincoln, Iredell, and Catawba county borders. The land underneath its waters once supported native trading routes, large bridges, plantations, and cemeteries.
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