Lake Hartwell is a man-made reservoir bordering Georgia and South Carolina on the Savannah, Tugaloo, and Seneca Rivers. Lake Hartwell is one of the southeast's largest and most popular recreation lakes. The lake is created by Hartwell Dam located on the Savannah River seven miles (11 km) below the point at which the Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers join to form the Savannah. Extending 49 miles (79 km) up the Tugaloo and 45 miles (72 km) up the Seneca at normal pool elevation, the lake comprises nearly 56,000 acres (230 km²) of water with a shoreline of 962 miles (1,548 km). The entire Hartwell "Project" contains 76,450 acres (309 km²) of land and water. I-85 bisects Hartwell Lake and makes the area easily accessible to visitors.
Map of Lake Hartwell
Lake Hartwell is named for the American Revolutionary War figure Nancy Hart. Nancy Hart lived in the Georgia
The Droughts and water levels of Lake Hartwell 1989 was the first year the lake hit a level 3 dropping to its lowest level during the drought that year. 2008 was the second time the lake hit a level 3. In the year of 2008, due to severe drought in the southeastern United States, the lake dropped to over 22 feet (6.7 m) below its normal water level in December 2008. This revealed old highways that were typically underwater, exposed islands that are usually topped with buoys to warn boaters, and left some boat shells sitting on dry land.
The Lake reached it lowest level, 637.49 ft. msl, on December 9, 2008. The highest lake elevation was 665.4 ft. msl, reached on April 8, 1964. Overall the average lake elevation is 657.5 ft. msl. As of the first of October 2010, the lake is back up to just over 654 feet, 6 ft lower than full pool of 660 ft. This rebound in lake level is due to releases from the lake being suspended for a month ending April 10, 2009 in an effort to return Lake Hartwell to normal elevations.
Aerial view of Savannah River before construction of the Hartwell Dam.
Early Lake History
The area around Lake Hartwell has a rich history, much of the land inherited from the Cherokee Indians and from early settlers. Many streams, rivers and recreation areas have been named after these early settlers. Issaqueena, a young Indian maiden who rode to Fort Ninety-Six to warn settlers of an attack, allegedly named some streams. Along her journey, she marked her travel by naming streams that she encountered for the number of miles she had covered. Issaqueena named Six-Mile, Twelve-Mile, Three-and-Twenty Mile and Six-and-Twenty Mile creeks, which are still a part of the lake today. Talked about earlier is Nancy Hart, for whom Hart County, Ga., Hartwell, Ga., and Hartwell Dam and Lake were named after her. A few other historic figures that lived around this area were Andrew Pickens and John C. Calhoun, both were Statesmen from South Carolina. William Bartram was another fellow that traveled the area recording vegetation types and plant species.
Building Lake Hartwell Dam 1958
ChallengesThe first challenge was in August 1956 when Mrs. Eliza Brock and her daughter refused to allow workmen to come on their property to begin clearing for the reservoir area. This involved 103 acres of land that the government gained ownership of in June 1956. Apparently Mrs. Brock never received the offer for her land therefore refusing to allow them on her property. After delaying construction, Mrs. Brock eventually settled on $6,850 for her property. The next challenge took place in late 1956 when Clemson College objected to the damage that would be done to its property as a result of the impounded water in the reservoir, including plans that would flood Memorial Stadium. After countless meetings Clemson finally settled on an agreement where two diversion dams would be built in the vicinity of Clemson College and rechannel the Seneca River.
Lake Hartwell Dam and Lake 1961
FishingSince its construction, Hartwell Reservoir has provided good fishing habitat for many species. Bream, catfish, smallmouth bass, walleye, and largemouth bass are naturally occurring species in the lake, with quality fishing available for those species. The most popular fishing on Lake Hartwell, however, has become pursuing striped bass. Striped Bass, also known as rock fish, were discovered to be able to survive in freshwater after the construction of a dam on the Santee-Cooper system in lower South Carolina trapped many striped bass in fresh water. Striped bass were eventually introduced to the three lower Savannah River System lakes: Hartwell, Russel, and Thurmond. The species has done well, but due to the need for moving water to successfully hatch eggs, must continually be stocked in the lakes. These fish provide anglers with a fishing challenge more likened to saltwater fishing, with anglers tending to use larger boats, conventional reels, and oftentimes trolling techniques. State record fish have come from all three of the lakes holding "stripers" on the Savannah River system. 60+ lb. fish have been caught on Lake Hartwell, with 20 lb. fish being common. The majority of striped bass caught on the lake will range from 5 to 12 pounds.
Building Lake Hartwell 1958
Building Lake Hartwell 1955
- Camping. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages 9 campgrounds at Lake Hartwell with a total of 524 campsites. Many of the campgrounds include restrooms, showers, boat ramps, playgrounds, electric and water hook ups, courtesy docks, group camping, and designated swimming areas.
- Biking trail. The Corps of Engineers Lake Hartwell office partnered with the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) to build a 7.6-mile multi-purpose trail at the Paynes Creek Campground area.
- Fishing. Hartwell is home to many different types of fish including largemouth bass, bream, hybrid and striped bass, crappie, white bass, trout, and walleye.
- Swimming. The lake is suitable for swimming but there have been over 200 deaths on the lake through the years.
- Water sports. The Lake is a venue for a variety of sports such as tubing, waterskiing, and wake boarding.
- Boating. Boating is a huge part of the recreation side of Lake Hartwell. There are five marinas along the lake, including Clemson Marina, Big Water Marina, Harbor Light Marina, Hartwell Marina, and Portman Marina. Also along the lake are many boat ramps.
- Wildlife. There are more than 250 species of birds and 40 different mammals around Lake Hartwell. In addition there are numerous aquatic, reptile and amphibian species there too. Some wildlife one may find includes wood ducks, chickadees, blue birds, screech owls, flying squirrels, wild turkeys, snakes, raccoons, and the great blue heron. Occasionally one may see a deer swimming across the water or drinking at the shore, even black bears have been spotted on the lake.
Hartwell Lake is one of the southeast's largest and most popular public recreation lakes. Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1955 and 1963 as part of a flood control, hydropower, and navigation project, authorized purposes now include recreation, water quality, water supply, and fish and wildlife management. Each year, millions of people utilize the many public parks, marinas, and campgrounds conveniently located around the lake to pursue a variety of outdoor recreational experiences -making Hartwell one of the most visited Corps lakes in the nation.
Hartwell Lake is a man-made lake bordering Georgia and South Carolina on the Savannah, Tugaloo, and Seneca Rivers. The lake is created by Hartwell Dam located on the Savannah River seven miles below the point at which the Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers join to form the Savannah. Extending 49 miles up the Tugaloo and 45 miles up the Seneca at normal pool elevation, Hartwell Lake comprises nearly 56,000 acres of water with a shoreline of 962 miles.
The Flood Control Act of 17 May 1950 authorized the Hartwell Dam and Reservoir as the second unit in the comprehensive development of the Savannah River Basin.44 The estimated cost was $68.4 million based on 1948 price levels and preliminary designs. The original project provided for a gravity-type concrete dam 2,415 feet long with earth embankments at either end, which would be 6,050 feet long on the Georgia side and 3,935 feet long on the South Carolina side. The 12,400-foot-long dam was to be topped with a roadway 24 feet wide. The main dam was to consist of two nonoverflow concrete sections on the right and left banks 887 feet and 940 feet long, respectively; a gravity-type concrete spillway 588 feet long equipped with 12 tainter gates 26 feet by 40 feet in the channel; and a powerhouse on the South Carolina side of the river.45 Full power pool was designed to be 660 feet above mean sea level. At this elevation, the reservoir would extend 7.1 miles up the Savannah River to the confluence of the Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers; 41 miles up the Tugaloo to within approximately 2 miles of the existing Yonah Dam; 27 miles up the Seneca to the mouth of the Little River, South Carolina; 2 miles up the Little River to the Newry site; and 7 miles up the Keowee to the Old Pickens site. The reservoir would cover 56,500 acres and would involve the relocation of 3 sections of railroad totaling 2 miles, the raising of 2 railroad bridges, construction of 6 sections of new state high- ways totaling 19.6 miles and 9 sections of county roads totaling 12.7 miles, the construction of 9 new bridges and the raising of 4 existing bridges, and the relocation of 2 power transmission lines.46
Construction of cofferdams on South Carolina side. Aerial view downstream.
As construction of the dam got under way, the specifications changed from time to time. The length of the concrete portions of the structure was reduced to 1,900 feet, the roadway was removed from atop the dam and made to cross the river just below the dam site, the size of the tainter gates was increased from 26 feet by 40 feet to 35.5 feet by 40 feet, and the Powerhouse was relocated from the South Carolina to the Georgia side of the river. Periodically, construction costs were revised upward to a final figure of almost $90 million. The first appropriations for construction were made on 15 July 1955, and the first major contract was awarded 14 October 1955 for construction of the earth embankments.47 Filling of the reservoir began in February 1961 and was completed in March 1962.
When the dam was constructed, 5 penstocks were provided for the installation of four 66,000-kilowatt generating units and a future 80,000-kilowatt unit. The fifth unit was completed in 1985, bringing the total generating capacity to 344,000 kilowatts (a “rehab” of units 1 – 4 took place from 1997 – 2000. This increased the total generating capacity to 422,000 kilowatts). The Hartwell project has provided not only electricity for municipalities and electric cooperatives but also an ample water supply for industry and domestic use. Power is sold through the Southeastern Power Administration (SEPA) to private power companies and public cooperatives. From 1962, when power was put on line, through September 1988 SEPA paid the Corps $118,485,133 for power. The total cost of the Hartwell Project was $89,240,000 (in 1963).48
Hartwell Dam and Lake. View southwest towards Georgia embankment.
In addition to power production, 5 feet of storage above the maximum power pool has been reserved for flood control. This feature at Hartwell, along with that at Clark Hill (Clark Hill was renamed J. Strom Thurmond in 1987), reduced flood damage in the areas downstream by an estimated $363,000 annually. Hartwell alone prevented an estimated $9.47 million in flood damages through the regulation of flood flows from 1962 through FY 1987 (from 1962 – 2000, Hartwell Dam prevented $13.7 million in flood damages). The combined control by the Hartwell and Clark Hill multipurpose projects permitted the use of some of the earlier undeveloped lowlands below Augusta for agriculture and also allowed extensive development in the low areas of Augusta. Flow regulation at Hartwell also increased the dependable production of power at Clark Hill and benefited navigation by increasing the minimum streamflow below Augusta. Water released through the turbines as power is generated at Hartwell and provides adequate regulation of flow in the river below the dam to benefit fish and wildlife, to aid navigation below Augusta, and to increase the dependable power at Clark Hill.49
The large lake created by the impounded waters at Hartwell has been used extensively for recreation. The number of visitors to the project has increased regularly from about 750,000 in 1962 to 9.6 million during 2000. This ranked Hartwell third of the ten most popular Corps projects in the nation. The Corps has developed 61 public-use areas in addition to recreational facilities provided by private club and quasi-public groups.
Hartwell Dam and Lake. Progress of Hartwell Dam construction. Spillway and Sluice gates open for test.
The Hartwell Lakeshore Management Plan was initially approved in 1979 after more than 4 years of work by Corps personnel, 4 public meetings, and a congressional hearing. This plan for the orderly development of the lake's shoreline serves to protect and manage the shoreline, establish and maintain acceptable fish and wildlife habitats, and help meet the recreational needs of the general public. The Management Plan became the subject of controversy because adjacent lakeshore landowners were being required to improve their property to meet the standards established by the Corps of Engineers. The plan sought to achieve a balance between the needs of these landowners while at the same time promoting a safe, healthful use of the lakeshore for recreational purposes.50 The Hartwell Plan which was revised and updated in 1989 after another series of public meetings and workshops held in September 1988, provided a set of maps of the entire lake, pinpointing areas where private mooring facilities(eg. boat docks) were permitted as well as areas where docks were in a "grandfather" status. It also gave basic information on requirements for the construction of mooring facilities and those permits or licenses required by landowners for any facilities placed on government property.51 Information on activities such as mowing and underbrushing was also provided in the Plan.52 The Hartwell Shoreline Management Plan was again revised and updated in 1998.
During construction, the Hartwell project was seriously challenged on only two occasions. The first instance was in August 1956 when Mrs. Eliza Brock and her daughter refused to allow workmen to come onto their property to begin clearing for the reservoir area. The controversy involved 103 acres of land that reverted to government ownership on 21 June 1956 when a formal "declaration of taking" was filed by the Corps of Engineers. Apparently, Mrs. Brock never received an offer for her land and therefore refused to allow government workers on the property. She and her daughter used a rifle to hold off contractors until a court order was served on 27 September. After delaying timber cutting procedures for more than a month, the 78-year-old Mrs. Brock settled the issue out of court and accepted the Government's offer of $6,850 for her property.56
The second challenge to the Hartwell project came in late 1956 when Clemson College objected to the damage that would be done to its property as a result of the impounded water in the reservoir. Correspondence between the Corps of Engineers and Clemson relating to the construction of the Hartwell project and its effect on the college began as early as 1949. In addition, representatives of the college and the Corps held numerous meetings prior to 1956. At a 16 December 1952 meeting in the office of DL Robert F. Poole, president of the college, a proposed plan for the Clemson College area was presented to college officials. In a letter of 5 July 1955, the Corps furnished the vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the school with information on plans for acquisition, relocation, and protection of facilities in the Clemson area. This information was substantially the same as presented to the college officials in December 1952.57 The Board of Trustees then pledged their cooperation in the Hartwell project.58 By 1956 DL Robert E. Edwards had assumed the presidency of Clemson College, and on 29 June 1956 the chairman of the Hartwell Dam Subcommittee of the Board of Trustees transmitted to the Savannah District a report compiled by a private engineering firm on the Hartwell project as related to Clemson College. Based on this report, three plans were proposed by the board for the protection of school holdings. In order of preference, these plans proposed the following: lowering the power pool from 660 feet to 610 feet; diverting the Seneca River around the endangered college property to prevent the anticipated flooding; or compensation for college lands and facilities that would be affected by the impounded waters. The Corps proceeded in anticipation of reaching agreement on the basis of the third plan until December 1956, when the Clemson trustees declared the land irreplaceable and the damage that would be done to the college irreparable.59
Following the claims made by Clemson of irreparable damage resulting from construction of the Hartwell project, and the support which these claims received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, construction on the project was halted pending further investigation. The Chief of Engineers attended a meeting at Clemson College on 20 December 1956 and subsequently requested authority from the Public Works committees of both the Senate and the House to restudy the project. Following the authorization, the Corps did a restudy during the early months of 1957. One curious circumstance that surfaced during the restudy was the fact that the Department of Agriculture had conveyed more than 7,600 acres of bottom land along the Seneca River to the college for the payment of one dollar in December 1954, more than four years after the authorization of the Hartwell project. This had been done without the knowledge of the Department of Army. In December 1956, the Department of Agriculture declared that the damage to this land “would be so great as to cast serious doubt on the economic feasibility of the project."60 Following the restudy it was concluded that redesigning the project with a power pool of 610 feet would be economically unfeasible and that the only alternative was to provide for the diversion of the Seneca River so that impounded waters would pose no threat to the Clemson College lands. On the basis of this revised project, work was resumed in 1957 and completed in December 1963.
The two diversion dams built in the vicinity of Clemson College in 1961 to rechannel the Seneca River and protect valuable school facilities were constructed of random earth fill raised on alluvial soil. Seepage on the dry or protected side of the structures required numerous repairs over the years, so in 1982 steps were taken to solve the problems permanently. The solution involved constructing concrete cutoff walls within the existing earthen dams using slurry wall panel method. This technique, borrowed from an earlier construction method used at the West Point project, involved excavating a trench along the entire length of each of the earthen dams and filling the trenches with a soupy masonry mixture that, when hardened, formed a relatively impervious concrete wall. Work on the lower diversion dam at Clemson was completed in December 1982, and seepage was reduced to the level anticipated. Work on the upper dam began in June 1983 and was completed in June 1984, well ahead of schedule.
Fast Facts about Hartwell Lake
At a glance, here are fast facts about Hartwell Lake:
Home to Tugaloo State Park and Hart State Park
56,000 acres of water
962 miles of shoreline
Created by damming the Savannah River
Authorized by Congress with the Flood Control Act of 1950
Construction began in 1955
Opened in 1962
10 Million visitors annually
80 parks and recreation areas
13 campgrounds with more than 700 campsites
Five marinas with gas docks, pump-outs, restaurants, boat docks, shops stores
Places to Visit
- Issaqueena Dam. To find the Dam head north on the Keowee River, past Clemson, and you will take a right turn into this "magical cove" that contains a waterfall. It is about 25 feet tall and 150 feet wide overflow out of Lake Issaqueena into Lake Hartwell. Many people will drive or park their boats and hike around this area on a pretty day. Regardless of all the danger signs, people insist on sliding down the waterfall into the lake. Wear a lifejacket though because some tragedies have happened here before.
- Eighteen Mile Creek. Eighteen Mile Creek is not quite eighteen miles long, but it is a nice curvy and narrow waterway. It is off of the Seneca River at buoy marker S-42. It is well known for among fishermen and birds. The curvy waterway goes for about five miles and ends in a big shallow area and an old bridge with lots of birds and wildlife.
- Rock Quarry. There are several overhanging rocks to leap from. The heights of the rocks vary with the changing lake levels. Some areas within this cove are shallower than others so be careful when jumping off the rocks.
- Ghost Island. This is the largest island, heading toward Portman Marina from Oconee Point. When looking at the island search for the highest point, you can simply look for the tallest trees on the center of the island. Start hiking to this point and you may find as many as fifty grave headstones. Many of the stones are very small and cannot be read due to age and years of weather. There are several tomb-like, above ground concrete vaults with markers identifying the graves from the War of 1812. There are also graves from the 1700s. The area in which it is located looks like it could have been an old home place or church but the only thing left was the graves. Many people camp on this island unaware of their "company".
- Andersonville Island. Andersonville, SC was once a well-known port and resort town with a barge system that traveled daily to Savannah, Ga. For many years this town flourished and had many businesses, factories, and tourists that would come from all around. Andersonville was said to be as large as Anderson, SC or Pendleton, SC, but all that is left is a large island nearly 400 acres in size. It is by far the largest island on the lake, between two and three miles long. It has a paved road that stretches from one side to the other but is grown over now. On the island one can find anything from building ruins, to artifacts, to rare plants and wildlife.
- Clemson Football. Clemson football games have always been a draw for boaters on Lake Hartwell. The University and stadium tower over the lake. During football season, boats from all over the lake travel up the Seneca River to come watch the games. You can park your boat on the left side of the long earth dike and walk up the hill to the famous Esso Club or to the game.