The Vagabond – The driving force behind Little River project


By Danny Crownover

In the early 1900s, Colonel Reuben A. Mitchell conceived the idea of building a huge hydroelectric power plant on the Little River in Cherokee County, of which engineers said was an entirely feasible and practicable project.

Since his brother, Sidney was head of the Electric Bond & Share Company, which was the world’s largest holding company in that field, Mitchell had ample backing.

At the same time, Captain W.P. Lay was planning to start the great hydroelectric power development on the Coosa River, a development that may have been the reason for abandoning the Little River project.

Mitchell proposed to build a dam across a gorge of the river that flowed off Lookout Mountain near Blanche.

In 1906, the United States government granted permission for the company to collect water from its public lands on the mountain. All of the necessary right-of-ways had been obtained. The project, had it been built at that time, would have been the only high head hydroelectric power plant east of the Rocky Mountains.

The plan was to impound the water on top of the mountain and to carry it by means of huge steel pipes or flumes to the electric turbine located in the valley. The fall would have produced an immense amount of power. Electricity thus generated would have been transmitted to Gadsden by means of high-tension lines. There was talk of electrifying the Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia Railroad, then known as the Chattanooga-Southern.

Mitchell also proposed to use the power to operate the local water works, one that he planned to build by a syndicate in which he would have been organized for the purpose. There was much discussion of the proposed high-headed power plant on Little River and at one time it looked as if it would be built.

An important question remained of whether or not the generated power could be sold to an advantage. In effect, there was no assurance of customers in sufficient numbers to make it a paying enterprise.

The question bothered the Coosa River developers until after they had completed their first plant. They found that they did not have enough power to go around, which became a problem. The issue was solved by the construction of a $12,000,000 steam generating plant in Gadsden.

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