Demolishing the Dam

DEMOLISHING THE DAM

Lexington, Virginia, faces the loss
of one of its Oldest Treasures

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By Caroline Blackmon, Alison Murtagh and Sutton Travis

 

The Jordan’s Point Dam on the Maury River once symbolized Lexington’s historic past, but it also threatened the city’s financial future.

Three years ago, the state forced the issue, demanding that the city decide whether to repair the deteriorating dam—or remove it.

The debate has splintered the community.

Some people say the city doesn’t have the estimated $3 million it would take to modernize the 19th-century relic, which has claimed at least one life in the last two decades.

“As a taxpayer, I’m glad that I’m not on the hook for the costs of fixing it up or getting sued over it or anything like that, so I think it’s the right thing in the end,” said Patrick Rhamey, a former member of Lexington City Council.

Others cling to memories of tubing, swimming and fishing in the pool of water upstream of the 205-foot concrete dam, which is part of Jordan’s Point Park.

“It’s sort of like having your own really green swimming pool,” Regional Tourism Director Jean Clark said. “It’s sort of like being on your big float in the middle of your family pool, where it’s peaceful and it’s calm.”

Jordan’s Point is named after John Jordan, an early 19th-century developer, who built a wooden crib dam at the site in 1806. The concrete dam, built by 1913, created a 1.2-mile pool of water, which is ideal for fishing and boating. Over the years, the site was home to a gristmill, lumber mill, forge and foundry.

Dick Halseth, president of the Miller’s House Museum’s board of directors, discusses the history of Jordan’s Point.

Nationally, environmentalists are pushing local governments to remove antiquated dams to restore rivers to their natural states. Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries secured the funding to remove Jordan’s Point Dam because it would improve the habitats for fish.

“There are thousands and thousands of defunct, no longer used dams,” said Louise Finger, stream restoration biologist with Game and Fisheries. “It’s a matter of time. These structures aren’t forever. They are no longer serving a purpose.”

Finger said removing the dam would likely return the Maury to a free-flowing river.

Louise Finger, stream restoration biologist for Game and Fisheries, explains how the Maury River will change after the dam’s removal.