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.

2 comments

Hi Kevin,

Thanks very much for your insightful comments. We too are excited to see if there is anything behind the dam. If we find anything important we will be sure to report back. To answer your question, the depth of the river is expected to drop approximately 6 feet immediately behind the dam. This is according to hydrology studies using a base flow of 200 cfs (cubic ft/second).

I live near the dam and I am glad to see it come down. The increase in spawning area will not only effect the shad but also their predators and all the other animal and plant species that are part of the web of life on the river. There will probably be more birds, mammals and other species of fish. Hopefully there will also be less standing water and so fewer mosquitoes. It will be interesting to watch the changes in the river as the flow and depth will change. I would expect to see a variety of junk surface that has been underwater for years behind the dam. How much is the depth of the river expected to drop behind the dam?