River Monsters: Discover the Largest Dam in Alabama

Written by Thomas Godwin
Updated: July 28, 2023
© iStock.com/Shackleford-Photography
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Key Points:

  • By the end of 1928, a colossal lake, spanning over 25,000 acres, was formed, claiming the title of the largest man-made lake to date.
  • Constructed by Alabama Power, Martin Dam proudly stands as the largest dam in the state of Alabama.
  • Stretching across a remarkable 880 miles, the shoreline of the lake is of such vast magnitude that it extends its touch to three distinct counties within the state of Alabama.

At the close of 1928, a 25,000-acre lake became the largest ever created and rested peacefully against the largest dam in Alabama. Lake Martin celebrates its 100th birthday this year—the lake’s centenary is another example of the engineering prowess of America, even as far back as 1926.

The largest dam in Alabama is none other than Martin Dam, constructed by Alabama Power. Fortunately, residents had vacated the area years before the dam was built, leaving Alabama Power with abundant real estate to purchase and plenty of space for the dam’s construction.

There were only a few, outspoken critics at the time, voicing concerns over the flooding and the potential destruction of wildlife and vegetation throughout the area. However, those concerns didn’t last very long, thanks to plenty of evidence to the contrary. Though flooding was inevitable, the contribution to and facilitation of local wildlife was far more significant.

Benefits of Building the Largest Dam in Alabama

The benefits of building a dam, wherever it is in the world, are numerous and profound. So long as the flood area is secure prior to the dam’s construction, the ensuing lake will bring an abundance of wildlife and marine life to the site.

Such was the case with Martin Dam and most of the benefits of building the dam were on full display shortly after that.

  • Hydroelectric power
  • Local job creation
  • Local and tourist recreation
  • Increase in local fruit and vegetable production for farms
  • Introduction of a wide array of fish species
  • Equitable temperatures near large bodies of water
  • Local wildlife health and resource improvements
  • Local wildlife population growth
  • Elimination of local winter frost impacts

It’s hard to argue the mass of benefits brought to the area by the creation of the Martin Dam. Today, it’s still the largest dam in the state of Alabama and, even if it was brief, the largest artificial lake in the United States.

The lake’s shoreline covers 880 miles and is so large that it touches three different counties in Alabama. Though it no longer holds the record as the world’s largest man-made lake, Lake Martin is still a huge lake with abundant local wildlife.

Whitetail deer, bluebirds, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, copperheads, bobwhite quail, hummingbirds, and warblers are just a few of the animals whose lives revolve around the existence of the lake. The largest dam in Alabama created a vast and thriving ecosystem and a recreational draw for local residents.

Kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and fishing are just a few recreational activities on Lake Martin. Largemouth bass, Alabama bass, white bass, channel catfish, blue catfish, flathead catfish, bluegill, black crappie, and white crappie are prevalent in Lake Martin, especially in the upper region of the lake.

History of the Martin Dam

History of the Martin Dam
Lake Martin was enlarged by the construction of the Martin Dam on the Tallapoosa River.

©Miller Dark / CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Alabama Power spent most of 1916 through 1923 buying up the surrounding land that would one day become Lake Martin. There were two communities in the area at the time, though historical data on the location indicates that most people in the area were long gone prior to the dam’s construction.

However, several homes, a local church, and multiple cemeteries, had to go before the official land-clearing projects could take place. Ironically, even as houses and churches were taken down, Alabama Power constructed multiple housing projects, a large mess hall for local workers, a hospital, and a commissary for shopping.

The dam gates officially shut for the first time in 1926, sealing off the Tallapoosa River. Unfortunately, Lake Martin didn’t come into being overnight. In fact, it would take another two years before the formation of the lake, and a natural disaster to make it happen.

Local flooding throughout the area, thanks to a slew of nasty thunderstorms, predicated the opening of the floodgates, which have a flow capacity of 3,016,000 gallons per minute. Once the gates were open, Lake Martin slowly took shape, becoming the lake as we know it today.

Lake Martin is 150′ deep in some places, which is the maximum depth of the lake, thanks to the information feedback from sonar mapping. It’s also large enough that parts of the lake touch four towns/cities—Alexander City, Eclectic, Dadeville, and Jackson’s Gap—as well as three counties.

As soon as the dam reached completion, closing its gates for the first time, three generators were brought online. All of those generators, including another that came onboard in 1952, are still in operation today, generating 182,500 kilowatts of power.

Lake Martin is a reservoir that is 150′ deep in some places that was enlarged by the construction of the Martin Dam.

Where is the Martin Dam Located on a Map?

Situated approximately 10 miles southwest of Dadeville, Alabama, Martin Dam stands as an impressive concrete arch-gravity dam on the Tallapoosa River. Constructed in the 1920s, its primary purposes are flood control, hydroelectric power generation, and water supply. The mighty dam’s reservoir, Lake Martin, spans a sprawling 40,000 acres, serving as a testament to its significant impact on the region’s water resources and energy production.

Here is the Martin Dam on a map:

Final Thoughts

The largest dam in Alabama is the Lake Martin Dam, and it has stood as a testament to the engineering prowess of humankind for a century. It took over 400,000 yards³ of concrete to construct the Lake Martin Dam, and it contains four hydroelectric generators, punching close to 185,000 kilowatts into the surrounding towns and communities.

It includes 20 spillways and stretches and is 2,255′ in length. For context, there are 5,280′ in a mile. It’s not the biggest dam in the world and it didn’t create the largest lake. But it’s still a massive dam and easily the largest dam in Alabama.

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About the Author

Thomas is a freelance writer with an affinity for the great outdoors and Doberman Pinschers. When he's not sitting behind the computer, pounding out stories on black bears and reindeer, he's spending time with his family, two Dobermans (Ares and Athena), and a Ragdoll cat named Heimdal. He also tends his Appleyard Ducks and a variety of overly curious and occasionally vexatious chickens.

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