Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Created to bring energy to the region – Lake Norman has powered a community

SailboatThis summer, celebrations are ongoing designating the fifty-year history of Lake Norman.  The first ground breaking for Lake Norman took place in 1959. It took four years to complete the Cowan’s Ford Dam and another two years to fill the lake.  But the story of Lake Norman actually began much earlier with the Native Americans.

     The Catawba Indians were the first to settle in our region. They referred to the Catawba River as “The Great River.” Years later, when early European settlers moved to the area, they brought diseases to which the native Indians had no resistance. These diseases nearly wiped out the entire Catawba Tribe. Once numbering 5,000, the Catawbas soon dwindled to less than 400 people. Later, early Colonists slowed the advance of General Cornwallis on grounds surrounding Cowan’s Ford, laying the foundation for later victories that helped gained America her victory from the British Crown.

     In the early 1890’s, the world’s largest hydroelectric plant began transmitting power from Niagara Falls to nearby Buffalo, NY. Local tobacco magnate James B. Duke and his brother Ben took note that electric power could be the key to their future if they could only harness the power of the Catawba River so they began to buy up land along the Catawba River basin. 

     About that time, the Duke brothers were introduced to Dr. W. Gill Wylie and a young engineer named William Lee.  Wylie and the Duke brothers came together to form the Catawba Power Company.  One can only imagine the excitement as Wylie, Lee, and the Dukes planned to bring electric power to our region.  Huddled around the table in their board room, could they have possibly envisioned what their collective dream would mean to the lake communities we know today?

     The creation of Lake Norman was not without sacrifice as homes, farms, and entire towns would be flooded to make way for the lake.  The Village of Long Island, once a thriving textile town with three mills, would end up under water as would countless other businesses and structures including the old Hwy 150 bridge.

     In 1957, Bill Lee (the son of William S. Lee) began the feasibility study for what would become Duke Energy Company’s final dam on the Catawba River.  This dam would create the largest lake in the Carolinas – our Lake Norman.

     Now, more than a hundred years later, entrepreneurs are still huddled around tables planning their future.  Some with just a dream and a Visa card as they discuss creating a new business. And like their counterparts of a hundred years ago, sacrifices must inevitably be made along the way.

     Corporations are moving to the lake.  Our proximity to Charlotte, transportation infrastructure, and skilled workforce make the area a great place to do business. But make no mistake – it’s the lake that lures them here.  Lake Norman is not just a majestic body of water – it’s a lifestyle like no other.Horizon

     The lake is more than 520 miles of shoreline covering 32,500 acres.  It is the spirit of the Catawba Indians who settled here first and who recognized then, that God had already been here.  It’s the colonial settlers who stood up to tyranny providing “a hornet’s nest” of rebellion.  It’s the dreams that spoke boldly of intentions and the actions which were bigger than the dreams.

     What began as a vision to power a business has become an energy that surges through time, touching lives, and leaving a legacy of leadership.  Lake Norman was created to bring energy to the Charlotte region and. fifty years later, its wake has powered a community.    


W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE IOM


Bill Russell is the President & CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce with 950 business members serving the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and greater Lake Norman region. For more information on the history of Lake Norman, check out Lake Norman Reflections by Bill and Diana Gleasner.



July 11, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Lake Norman / North Mecklenburg History | , , , , , , | Leave a comment