Hales Bar has a dark history with numerous deaths that begin before the powerhouse was even built. Hales Bar began construction in 1905 by Josephus Conn Guild and Charles E. James. The purpose of the dam was to calm the vicious whirlpools along the Tennessee River. We are told that supposedly the Native Americans claim to see the souls of the ancestors spinning in the whirlpools and they would rise up to grab any one unfortunate to close enough and drag them down into the river drowning them. During the
The dam was completed in 1913. Leaks began to appear almost immediately after completion. In 1919, engineers attempted to minimize the leakage by pumping hot asphalt into the dam's foundation. This was temporarily successful, but by 1931, a study showed the dam was leaking at a rate of 1,000 cubic feet per second.
The passage of the TVA Act in 1933 created the Tennessee Valley Authority and gave it control of flood control and improvement initiatives in the Tennessee Valley. By this time, Chattanooga and Tennessee River Power had merged with several other companies to form the Tennessee Electric Power Company, or TEPCO. The new company was eventually headed by Guild's son, Jo Conn Guild, who was a fierce opponent of TVA. With the help of attorney Wendell Wilkie, TEPCO challenged the constitutionality of the TVA Act in federal court. In 1939, however, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Tennessee Electric Power Company v. TVA in which they upheld the TVA Act, and a few months later, TEPCO was forced to sell most of its assets, including Hales Bar Dam, to TVA for $78 million.
After gaining control of Hales Bar Dam in 1939, TVA carried out extensive repair work on the dam's foundation that by 1943 had succeeded in halting the dam's leakage. In 1949, TVA increased the dam's generating capacity and equipped the spillway with radial gates that helped extend the Hales Bar Reservoir's navigation channel all the way to the base of Chickamauga Dam. In the late 1950s, however, boils began to appear in the water below Hales Bar Dam, and an investigation showed the dam was again leaking, this time at an alarming 2,000 cubic feet per second. Dye tests carried out in 1960 suggested that many of the leakage channels had interconnected, increasing the possibility of a future dam failure.
In the 1960s, TVA began expanding the size of its dam locks to accommodate the increase in river traffic the Tennessee Valley had experienced since the end of World War II. A study in 1963 suggested that expanding the size of the Hales Bar lock would be extremely expensive, and considering the continued expenses involved with leak repair, TVA decided that would be more practical to replace the dam altogether. Nickajack Dam was authorized in January 1963 and construction was completed December 14, 1967. Operations were halted at Hales Bar Dam the following day, and by September 1968, Hales Bar Dam had been dismantled to the extent that it no longer threatened navigation on the new Nickajack Lake. Two of Hales Bar's generators and parts of Hales Bar's switchyard were installed at Nickajack.