Who Knew?

Jamie McFarlin

At the end of the Lawe Street bridge, traveling away from campus and toward Alexander Gym, there is a little white jungle-gym-looking building to the right.
On Sept. 30, 1882 it became the world’s first operating hydroelectric power plant station. Four years later, this same pump supplied energy to the world’s first electric streetcar system.
The dam was funded by paper tycoon H.F. Rogers and produced 12.5 kilowatts – enough energy to power two paper mills and his private home, Hearthstone.
There is a good chance the importance of this building is unrecognized by most. The introduction of hydroelectricity as a power source was revolutionary.
Today, the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River provides energy for multiple states, on average generating four billion kilowatt-hours of energy annually.
Originally titled the Boulder Dam project, the construction of the Hoover Dam began in 1931 and took five years. Interestingly, the Hoover was dedicated Sept. 30, 1935 – exactly 53 years after Appleton’s hydroelectric dam began operation.
Full operation of the Hoover Dam began about a year later on Oct. 26, 1936. For construction, the Colorado River was diverted through tunnels drilled into the canyon walls around the construction site.
During construction, 96 workers died and oddly, the first man to die was a surveyor on the project who was father of the last man to die on the project. He died 13 years to the day after his father.
None of the 96 who died on the project are entombed in the dam, as some rumors suggest. The dam houses 4.36 million cubic yards of cement, which is still curing to this day.
The water backed up behind the dam created Lake Mead, and extends 110 miles upriver of the dam with a surface area of 146,000 acres.
While Appleton’s hydroelectric power station isn’t nearly as impressive or massive as the Hoover, it is fascinating and endearing to note that Appleton is where hydroelectricity was first employed.
With the onset of beautiful weather, explore the river and see some history. The pump neighbors campus, and Hearthstone is not a far walk.
You’ll probably catch a glimpse of the bald eagles that lately seem to be appreciating the weather as well.