Land Before the Dam
In the early 1700s, this was an area of intense cultural interaction. The Lower Creek Indians lived here, surrounded by Spanish missions to the south and southeast, English traders to the northeast, and French explorers to the west and southwest.
Good soil and frequent flooding make land around Bartletts Ferry Dam ripe for farming. Archaeologists found evidence of a farmstead dating from the 1850s on a nearby ridge, overlooking the Chattahoochee River.
The river and woods make this area a great place for hunting. Archaeologists found a temporary hunting camp that dates from 3040-2070 B.C. The people who camped there could have been hunting anything from geese and turkeys to rabbits and deer!
Today, people flock to Lake Harding to fish for catfish, crappie, bream and bass. Even before the dam, people came to fish the river. Fish traps or dams, built hundreds of years ago by Native Americans, can still be seen along the Chattahoochee River.
Hydroelectric Power in Georgia
In 1911, the Georgia Railway and Power Company was created to dam and harness the power of the Tallulah and Tugaloo Rivers in north Georgia. They planned to sell the electricity to the utility companies of Atlanta and North Carolina to power streetlights and railways. When WWI began, the demand for power increased across the south as factories ramped up their production of goods. This increase in demand caused a massive expansion in the construction of dams and the production of hydroelectricity. The new era of hydroelectric power helped to bring about the industrialization of Georgia.
By the onset of World War I and later the Great Depression, the primary changes to the existing affected cultural environment were additions of residential occupation and improvements to the regional infrastructure. With prosperity came growth, development and new demands upon the surrounding countryside; the Chattahoochee River became a source of water and power for the expanding city of Atlanta in the 1890s. The Chattahoochee’s capacity to generate hydroelectric power was tapped in the early 20th century by dams such as the one at Morgan Falls, but not until the completion of Buford Dam in 1956 did the risk of flooding in the corridor wane (Gerdes, et al., 2007). It is during this time that Lake Harding was built by the Columbus Power Company in the 1920s. The hydroelectric dam and lake reservoir were later bought by Georgia Power in 1930.
The Great Depression brought about a series of intense changes, largely in the form of reduced economic investment and large-scale out-migration to Atlanta, Birmingham and more northerly urban areas. Many of the hydroelectric dams, military facilities and other important historic properties can be directly traced to the activities of the Works Progress Administration and other Roosevelt projects.
During the period of increased production brought about by World War II, interior Southeastern factories and communities participated on a large scale with the mobilization of the armed forces. This included not only goods and services for the home front, but manufacture of weaponry and military aircraft for the European and Pacific theaters. Many of the military industries went on to furnish equipment and tools of the Cold War. Modifications to the Chattahoochee waterway improved navigation and hydropower.
During the post-World War II era, reinvestment in the construction of suburban communities with distinctive architectural styles increased settlement within the Lake Harding area dramatically. The focus was especially on areas near the major cities, lakes or military installations that maintained a partially rural character. Planned communities were slowly replacing tenant farms as early as the 1910s, but by the 1940s and 1950s, they were ubiquitous throughout the region. After World War II, land along the Chattahoochee was increasingly valued for recreational activities, and suburban development of metropolitan Atlanta began to encroach into the river corridor.