This Place in History: Comerford Dam

Local News

Barnet, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Barnet with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins. We’re right on the side of I-91, but we’re talking about something way off in the distance.

“What a gorgeous view today with the sun shining and this big, huge dam behind us! We’re talking hydroelectricity and harnessing the Connecticut River to provide power to all of New England. This takes us way back to 1928,” began Perkins.

“It used to be that mills had to be on rivers to be powered, but now factories are going up all over the country, and they need power. And water power is still one of the best ways to provide hydroelectricity. This section of the Connecticut River was called Fifteen-Mile Falls. The river dropped 320 feet over the length of those falls, continuously. It was identified as an area that would be really good for a huge hydroelectric project.”

“​​​The New England Power Company came up with this idea of putting in three different dams throughout this 20 mile line along the Connecticut River to flood into reservoirs to then create hydro power. The Comerford Dam, which is behind us, technically in East Barnet, was the first dam built,” said Perkins.

“This first dam took them about two years. The next dam was built in about two years, but later in the 1930s. Then, the last dam wasn’t built until 1957. But when this dam was built, we took an area of Vermont where very few people lived and at its height, 3200 workers were working on this dam. And so they had almost a little city up here in the woods with everything from movie theaters to swimming holes to a hospital, all built just so that the workers could get this dam completed. And they did.”

“It certainly changed the landscape as any hydroelectric project did. The Connecticut River, as they said, was wild and free. It was known for the log drives, the great timber coming down from Quebec along the Connecticut River. That ended with this hydroelectric project. But in the end, people didn’t really object to it because they saw the benefit of having that electrical power,” explained Perkins.

“It opened in 1930 and I think this is a really cool story. President Herbert Hoover pressed a golden key in the White House which was connected to a dedicated line all the way from Washington D.C. to that dam that started the first turbine. And so that was the ceremony to get that thing running.”

“It’s still running today, still producing a lot of power. The whole system is contributing about 5% of New England’s power from hydroelectric, this project and others.”

“I brought this really cool pamphlet. This was produced by the Grafton Power Company from the New England Power Association in 1928 talking about great this power project could be. It has an artist rendition showing what, at the time, the two dams would look like.  And there’s a third dam that was built in the 1950s below this artist’s impression. I love that it’s so bucolic,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historical markers, click here.

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