Caney Fork River
The Caney Fork river is 144 miles (232 km) long, rising in Cumberland County. and flowing NW to the Cumberland River. The Caney Fork rises in Cumberland County about six miles (10 km) west north-west of Crossville. It is crossed by U.S. Route 70 near the tiny community of Clayville, and, flowing southwest, then crosses into White County. In southeastern White County it descends off the Cumberland Plateau through a deep, steep gorge known as Scott's Gulf in a remote area west of Scott Pinnacle, a locally-known mountain. Farther downstream, near the Dodson community, the stream becomes the line between White County and Van Buren County. It receives the flow of the Calfkiller River and several minor tributaries.
At the confluence of the Caney Fork, the Collins River and the Rocky River is Great Falls Lake. This reservoir is impounded by Great Falls Dam, a project of the former Tennessee Electric Power Company now owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, the only dam outside of the Tennessee River drainage system directly operated by it. This dam impounds a very small but very deep lake due to the depth of the gorges carved by the rivers it impounds. This area was something of a resort area in the early 20th century when such projects were uncommon, especially in the southeastern United States, but other than a few cabins, there is little evidence of this today, as the area has been largely supplanted by larger, more modern developments. The dam is named for the Great Falls of the Caney Fork, caused by the descent of the stream off of the Highland Rim to the level of the Nashville Basin. Rock Island State Park was developed on the site of former woolen mills in the 19th century well predating the electrical development. (This area was used for a considerable number of exterior shots and stunts in the Sylvester Stallone film, The Specialist.)
The Caney Fork River played a large role in the development of DeKalb County by providing drinking water, power and transportation. Grist mills and saw mills were established on the many creeks flowing into the Caney Fork River. By following the Caney Fork one could travel down stream to Nashville and as far away as New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.
Abundant stands of virgin timber lined the banks and surrounding areas of the Caney Fork River and the Caney Fork provided easy access to market in Nashville. Timber was cut and mules were used to drag the logs to the river bank. There the timber was fastened together forming large rafts ranging in size from 20 to 40 feet in width and up to 90 feet in length. A tent or other makeshift structure provided shelter to the crew and depending on water conditions the trip downstream to Nashville took from one to two weeks.
Pearls in the Caney Fork!
In the 1880's it was discovered that the plentiful mussels in the Caney Fork River contained a valuable commodity in the form of pearls. From 1885 to about 1915 Smithville became a leading fresh water pearl market with some pearls bringing in over $1,000.00, a considerable amount of money in those days.
Pearling, although profitable required a considerable amount of time and work. Usually hundreds of mussels had to be gathered and pried open before a pearl was found.
The pearl is the official gem of the State of Tennessee. The following passage was taken from the Tennessee Blue Book: "
"The Caney Fork in Middle Tennessee was noted for its pearl-bearing mussels, and “pearling” was a favorite sport on Sunday afternoons at the turn of the century. After World War I, dams were built on many of the rivers, and the mussels lost their swift and shallow shoals. Also, the waters became more toxic and pearling became unprofitable. But, Tennessee river pearls are among the most beautiful and durable in the world. It was designated as an official state gem in 1979."
Center Hill Dam
The Caney Fork River and Center Hill Dam and Lake have played a prominent role in the history of DeKalb County. Currently it is estimated that Center Hill Lake draws 3,982,000 visitors each year and adds approximately $39 million into the local economy of DeKalb and Putnam Counties.
Center Hill Dam and Center Hill Lake was authorized by federal legislation, specifically the Flood Control Act of 1938 and River and Harbor Act of 1946. Construction was completed and the gates were closed on November 27, 1948. On a regional level Center Hill Dam is one of several projects designed to develop and control water resources in the Cumberland River basin.
By controlling the waters of the Caney Fork River, Center Hill Dam reduces flooding of municipal, industrial and agricultural areas down stream. The Caney Fork River flows into the Cumberland River near Carthage. From Carthage the Cumberland River flows into the Tennessee River at Land Between the Lakes on the Kentucky - Tennessee Border. From there the Tennessee River Flows into the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky and the Ohio River joins the Mississippi River near Cairo, Illinois. As illustrated by the river connections, Center Hill Dam is one part of a larger system which is an important part of the development for the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.