Old Whitney

Written by Debrah Lovan

March 2, 2022

In Jan 1908 Scientific American  paper  published its cover article on the Whitney Dam Construction Project near the Yadkin River’s Narrows Gorge.   Located between Stanly and Montgomery Counties,the construction of a  granite block dam was  well underway .  Expectations for the project  were running  high.  Promotional campaigns had  succeeded in creating a lot of support for the project.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Whitney Project had already been abandoned when the national article was posted.  

In 1899  Whitney Development Co was formed by George Whitney, a Pittsburgh financier.  The General  Manager of the company was British mining engineer, consultant  and promoter  Egbert Hambley.  Hambley’s knowledge of the area and his ties to wealthy Northern and English industrialists made him an invaluable partner for Whitney. The Whitney Development Company   promoted the construction project as the Niagara of the South.  Eventually, the plan was  to extend the newly generated  supply of hydropower out to a 100 miles radius.  It would be cleaner and cheaper than the steam generators used at present by local industry, i.e. textiles.  

The Press projected the Whitney Project would transform central North Carolina into a garden spot.  It was  a massive project that, they wrote,  would subdue nature into giving up her power and would allow men to improve upon nature and the lives of people.  Cities and farms alike would be lit up, manufacturing would benefit and modern conveniences would abound. Street lights and street cars would come to the Piedmont through the production of clean energy.

The Whitney Development Co  was headquartered in  the Gold Hill mining district  where they operated two gold mines in Cabarrus County.  They also owned and operated the Granite Quarry in Rowan County  that would supply the local stone  for construction.  These and six other subsidiaries of the company would rely on the development of the Yadkin River for power.  A total of 30000 acres in Rowan, Stanly, Cabarrus, Davidson and Montgomery Co had been purchased by Whitney Development. 

The final  blueprint  called for a  granite structure 35 feet high and 1100 feet long to create 27000 horsepower  output.   A five  mile canal would connect the dam to a power plant just below Palmer Mountain.  A spur rail  line was constructed to connect the dam to the quarry and the gold mines.  Hundreds of workers including miners and Sicilian masons from the quarry built the dam out of  local granite blocks.  Streets were laid out for the town of Whitney at the construction site.

In 1906  Whitney’s  gold mines flooded and never reopened.  The company was left  in debt to families and creditors,  having   caused 7 deaths.  Typhoid fever broke out at a construction site on  the Yadkin, depleting the workforce.  Hambley died of typhoid fever in 1906.    Pressure continued as  Whitney was forced into selling his Pennsylvania coal stocks.   In 1907 Whitney Development Co was forced into a receivership with NC Power and Electric.  In 1910 Whitney was forced into a total bankruptcy.  

In 1912 all the assets of the company were sold to French Company Southern Aluminium.  This company quickly evaluated the Whitney project and decided to build a new project  we now know as the Narrows Dam and the Town of Badin.

When the waters are low on the Yadkin River  you can still see the abutments of the granite block structure that was abandoned, unfinished, in 1907.

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