Over eighty years ago, the idea was conceived to harness the water powers of the Youghiogheny (pronounced “yock-a-gain-ee” or locally referred to at the “yock”) River, Maryland’s only designated “wild” river and Deep Creek, a tranquil stream situated between Roman Nose Ridge and Marsh Hill Ridge, for the production of electricity.
Planning began as early as 1908 but early attempts fell through. In 1921 the Youghiogheny Hydro-Electric Corporation was granted the right to construct dams across Deep Creek and the Youghiogheny River, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Electric Corporation (PENELEC).
Preliminary surveys were conducted in 1922 to determine the water power possibilities by measuring the running levels of the Youghiogheny River and establishing gauging stations to determine the amount of water flow. The concept that resulted from these surveys proposed the construction of four dams and three power houses. One of the dams would be located near the confluence of Deep Creek and the Yough, another in the Yough north of Deep Creek, and 2 dams south of the Deep Creek project. Because it would be financially self sufficient, feasibility studies showed that the Deep Creek dam and powerhouse should be completed first. In the end, it was the only dam from the original concept to be constructed.
As the project began in November of 1923, the first step was the acquisition of land. The Eastern Land Corporation was licensed by the state to handle the real estate transactions. The price per acre ranged from $5.00 to $2,500, with an average cost of about $55.00. Entire farms were purchased even when just a portion of the land would be flooded. Many farms were purchased not because they would be flooded but because the roads leading to them would be cut off by the rising water. In total, about 140 farms were purchased to make up the 8,000 acres acquired for the project, with only 4500 acres actually inundated. When possible, buildings were moved to higher ground including private homes and 2 school houses.
The dam and powerhouse were built by Mr. Charles Hawley & Company, Inc., of Washington, DC. The 1,000 men employed for the purpose of construction were housed in 2 large buildings close to the location of what is now Red Run Lodge. Various other projects resulted from the construction process including: connecting the B&O Railroad at Oakland and extending it to the dam and power sites, relocation of nearly 15 miles of highway, relocation of 2 steel bridges, the opening of a quarry to prepare stone for the dam and roadways.
Taking almost 2 years to complete, the plant opened for operation at 4 p.m. May 26th, 1925. Eighty years later, the earth and rock fill dam remains much as it was then. It is about 1,340 feet long and crosses Deep Creek about 1.75 miles upstream from it’s confluence with the Yough. Water from the lake is transported to the powerhouse through a 7,000 foot power tunnel. The brick powerhouse is capable of producing about 18 megawatts of electric power with its 2 Francis type turbines and 2 generators. Both of the original steel bridges have been replaced with more modern concrete structures.
As word spread about the fishing and boating opportunities during the 1950’s and 60’s, the area saw more visitors from Pittsburgh. In the 1980’s, with the opening of Interstate highways from the East, an increased number of visitors came from the Baltimore/Washington population centers.
Today Deep Creek Lake is owned by the state of Maryland and managed by the Department of Natural Resources. Holding the title of Maryland’s largest freshwater lake, it is 13 miles long with 65 miles of shoreline and covers about 3,900 acres. With an average depth of about 25 feet, maximum depth reaches about 75 feet near the breast area of the dam. A fortunate by-product of man’s need to generate power, the resulting natural beauty of Deep Creek Lake cannot be denied.
Mountain Lake Quarterly