Going down: Woolen Mills dam
Jason Halbert has labored for years to open up area rivers by removing obsolete dams. Within a week, two dams will be history: Charlottesville's historic Woolen Mills dam and the Tye River dam in Nelson County.
The partial breach of Woolen Mills dam starts Monday, and it was definitely the more controversial project. All but 75 feet of the block-and-granite structure will be demolished, the partial teardown a nod to 1830, when Rivanna River water power allowed the Woolen Mills to manufacture its woolens and later, cloth for Confederate soldier uniforms.
Contractors are building a causeway out to the dam and on Monday, a Trackhoe will roll out and "start grabbing it," says Halbert. The demolition will take about two weeks.
Down in Nelson, the Tye River dam is already down, and debris is being removed from Tuesday's demolition. "It was much simpler," says Halbert, who has coordinated both projects. "We had to deal with one family and they were very cooperative."
The dam was inherited by Charlottesville resident Bess Quinn in the 1950s, and it was her wish that the 100-year-old structure near the Amherst border come down, say her children, who own it today.
"It was the only dam on the Tye River," says Halbert, and now the river, popular with anglers, kayakers and canoers, is unobstructed from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the James River.
Halbert is taking a break from dam breaching, focusing instead on his three-month-old son. "Maybe I'll float down the river with him," muses the new dad.
And maybe he'll be joined by some of the million or so shad fry he's released over the past couple of years, coming back to spawn in their native waters for the first time in centuries.