People & Places with Pierce: J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake

Some would argue that life is better at J. Strom Thurmond Lake, but its original purpose wasn’t to be an oasis.

Game Warden First Class Bobby Timmerman with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources says: “This is the largest man-made lake east of the Mississippi.”

Scott Hyatt, operations project manager for the J. Strom Thurmond Dam & Lake explains: “Clarks Hill Dam was built to initially support flood protection in downtown Augusta. It was about an 8-year process building the dam, completed in 1954. While it was being built, Congress actually authorized the Corps to start spending money on recreation facilities.”

And that would quickly prove to be a huge draw.

“We get 3 ½ million or so visitors a year that come out to the lake,” said Hyatt. “To put that in perspective, the Grand Canyon gets about 4 million visitors a year.”

John Hamblen, a park ranger at the J. Strom Thurmond Dam & Lake adds: “There are numerous beaches that we have around here. Some of our biggest visited areas are Clarks Hill Park on the South Carolina side and also Lake Springs Recreation area on the Georgia side.”

The lake has been the CSRA’s place to play since the dam opened up over 60 years ago, but very few people know what lies underneath the water in one part of the lake.

“There were actually three towns, three sister towns very close together where the Broad River and the Savannah River come together,” explained Hyatt. “Those towns popped up in the late 1700’s.”

The towns would slowly fizzle and by the 1940’s, were abandoned to make way for the lake.

“If the lake does go down far enough you can see old outlines of where buildings and roads used to be,” said Hyatt.

The three sister towns may be long gone, but the controversy surrounding the name of the dam and lake lingers.

“The dam was originally named after the town of Clarks Hill,” said Hyatt. “In the early months of 1988, the dam was officially renamed the J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake. And there was a big protest after that. On the Georgia side, they went to their state legislators and they actually passed a bill that said if you’re in the state of Georgia, spending state dollars on this lake, you may call the lake Clarks Hill.”

Both names are still used.

“A lot of times we just refer to it as the lake to keep people happy,” joked Hyatt.

No matter what you call it, one thing is sure. It’s the place to get away.

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