The Lake Murray Dam

By: Shannon Shull

I’ve mentioned before that the highlight of my long commute to work is crossing the beautiful Lake Murray dam. Some (all-too-early) mornings I witness the mystical moon glow across the water. Some mornings I get to lay eyes on incredible sunrises that would take your breath away, and the crown glory of a long hard day of teaching…being audience to an out-of-this-world sunset as I finally make my way home.

Today was a day in which the weather decided to taunt us all with the riches of Spring. Only last week the ground was covered with snow and yet today the temperature hit the 70s. So crossing the dam this afternoon on the way home was like a mini spiritual journey. The lake was right there, beaming in all its glory as the setting sun was bouncing its warmth everywhere, creating a spotlight on what seemed like a mirage. And the mirage said to me, “Hang in there, summertime is a comin’!” And am I ever ready!!!

The dam was seriously an amazing sight today, a foreshadowing of the joys of Spring and Summer to come.  Walkers and runners packed the sidewalk. Birds were flying, fish were jumping and boats littered the water. I could feel the energy in the air as I drove slowly trying to keep the dam experience from ending. Check out the pictures I was able to sneak…

The view from my car...

Oh the dam!!

Sunset glow on the dam

The Lake Murray Dam Sunset

Knowing I had a blog entry to write, my journey crossing the dam today, the tease of Spring inspired me to write about this impressive SC state treasure. I came across some fabulous information about the history of the Lake Murray Dam that I just have to share.

“Lake Murray is named after William Murray, the engineer who, with his partner T. C. Williams, conceived and persevered until “the world’s largest earthen dam” at that time was finished. Their vision of harnessing hydroelectric power here and at the Santee Cooper project brought abundant electricity to the middle part of South Carolina. Work on the dam across the Saluda River was started on September 21, 1927 and was finished on June 30, 1930. During construction of the dam, a Movietone news crew filmed the construction, and the newsreel footage has been preserved at the University of South Carolina. The dam itself was built over 200 feet tall. It runs a distance of a mile and a half across. The ground level of the dam is over a quarter of a mile thick. The lake that it forms is forty-one miles long and, in places, over fourteen miles wide. State Highway 6 runs along the top of the dam, giving a panoramic view of the water on one side and the layout of the SCE&G Power Plant below.

The lake has over 500 miles of shoreline, and forms an impoundment of over 50,000 acres. To make the building of the lake possible, more than 1000 tracts of land were acquired, and 5,000 people’s homes were relocated. In its conception, it gave jobs and cheap electricity to the people of the Midlands of south Carolina, and in its enduring, gives them lasting beauty and enjoyment.”

I remember my Dad having a book about the making of the dam. It showed pictures of the land before they filled in the massive area with the water. Whole towns, homes, railroads… I remember being totally fascinated by the pictures.  According to,

“Approximately 100,000 acres of land was purchased for the building of the dam and lake. Land was purchased from more than 5000 families. The land sold between $15 and $45 an acre.

To make room for the lake, nearly a dozen communities had to abandoned, including Derrick, Pine Ridge, Selwood, Wessinger, Cantsville, Leaphart, Savilla, Boyleston, Lorena, Holly’s Ferry and Lorick’s Ferry.

Six schools, three churches and about 193 graveyards containing 2,323 graves had to be moved. Some families chose not to move the graves, and at several area churches there are monuments with these names listed.

To clear the land and log the trees, from the area to be covered by water, an average rate of 50 cents per day, was paid to 2,000 men to clear the 65,000 acres by hand using crosscut saws and axes. Out of the trees cut down, 100 million board feet of lumber was manufactured. Some of the lumber was used in the construction of the dam and some was used to build a three-mile railroad between the dam site and what is known today as Irmo.”

As a child, I remember stories of my father and grandfather diving off of the towers. In high school, rebels would spray paint messages on the towers. I remember riding on wave runners with high school friends and falling off into the water right at the towers one time. Let’s just say, I completely freaked out! I had visions of catfish the size of a bus snapping up to swallow me whole! I couldn’t get back on that wave runner fast enough!

Crossing the fabulous Lake Murray dam every weekday reminds me that growing up on Lake Murray was and is pretty darn special and I’m certainly thankful for the opportunity to be reminded of its glory each day on my trek to teach.

Any special Lake Murray Dam stories to share? If you’re a local, I’m sure you’ve got some fond memory that comes to mind! Do tell! Smiles to all and here’s to our continued survival of Spring Fever! 😉

3 thoughts on “The Lake Murray Dam

  1. Right out of college, I worked at Lake Murray Tourism and Recreation Association, now Lake Murray Country. Such a great first job. I loved learning about Lake Murray and being out there every day. Beautiful place.

  2. Pingback: Angel Wings Over Lake Murray | Every Woman Blog

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