Former villagers share their memories of Jordan Dam community

Former villagers share their memories of Jordan Dam community
Jordan Dam schoolhouse and students, March 1, 1928. (Alabama Power Company Archives and Museum)

Alabama Power has an project underway to document life in villages built near its hydroelectric projects in the first half of the 20th century. These villages, where many employees and their families lived, eventually faded away, but along with houses and community dining halls, some had schools and even hospitals.

Bill Gardner, an engineer for the company in Environmental Affairs, has led assessments of each Alabama Power hydroelectric site more than 50 years old. During that process, Gardner located about a dozen former residents of the village near Jordan Dam. Some of them shared their memories.

Joe McDonald (lived in Jordan village 1946-65):

“The Jordan Dam village was a safe area where one could go anywhere day or night, without fear. Not only did we not lock our doors, we didn’t even have a key to the front door of our home.

“The company encouraged employees to live in the village by charging $15-a-month rent for a five-room house. In the early ‘60s it was increased to $25 a month and included free water and exterior painting, and any repairs were furnished by the company. The dams and steam plants were usually located in remote areas and, by furnishing housing, the company had the readily available workforce whenever breakdowns occurred or they needed to have employees raise floodgates during the spring floods.

“During outages (such as water turbine maintenance) in the fall, employees would work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. Being only 5-10 minutes from home was beneficial to employees working such long hours.

“From about age 12, I had a boat and a 7.5-horsepower outboard motor. I would walk about a quarter-mile from my house to the lake every day in the summer to fish. In 1954, at age 12, I won third place in the APCO fishing contest by catching a 1.5-pound shellcracker bream. With the $10 cash prize, I was a kid rich!”

Margaret Jones Barnett (lived in Jordan village, mid-1940s-1959):

“The Jordan Dam community was a very tight community. We kids knew that if we did anything wrong, our parents would know it before we got home. There was no hiding anything from them, as all the parents were parents to all the children. I have been reprimanded many times by parents who were not my biological parents. They never had to worry where we were or what we were doing, as there was always someone looking after us and we knew that when we heard the lunch or afternoon whistle, it was time to stop playing and go home.

“There were about 18 families living in the camp. We had annual barbecues that the company gave the men if they did not have a lost-time accident, and we always looked forward to these barbecues. My dad was given the day off so that he could help with the cooking. We would hang out where they were cooking, with the anticipation of having barbecue, camp stew and ice cream for dessert. Some of the dignitaries from Birmingham would always come down and join us. It was an exciting day for everyone.

“We did not have air conditioning, telephones or any of the luxuries that we have today. However, we did have good, clean, filtered water, thanks to Mr. Walker, who made sure the water tank was always filled. At night after the dishes had been washed, dried and put away, my mother would read to the entire family. It would be a book from the library at school or some book we had around the house, sometimes even the Britannica Junior Encyclopedia.

“Every Christmas, we had a play and party, with the company furnishing the fruit, nuts and candy that each child got. The children drew names and everyone got a gift. One of the employees, most of the time it was Mr. Garthwright, always played Santa on Christmas Eve. He would visit each family to find out what we wanted Santa to bring us that night.

“I can remember one year that water was so high everyone was afraid the dam would not hold. They were afraid for our little school van to cross the dam, so we had to go around through Wetumpka to get to Holtville to school. That seemed a long way. My dad and all the employees watched the water closely as all the floodgates were open and a real danger that if the dam broke, Wetumpka would be completely underwater.

“I still remember the vibrations of the water going over the spillways and waking every morning to the sounds of the rumbling water. I miss that sound still today and I have been gone for many years. Sometimes it seemed that every time there was a bad thunderstorm, my dad would have to go, along with several other men, and lift a floodgate or two.”

Gloria Adamson Johnson (born at Jordan Dam village in 1945):

“Seaborn and Lena Adamson moved into their Jordan Dam house in approximately 1927. It was one of the first permanent houses there. They lived there until my daddy retired. Their second son, Leonard, and I were both born at Jordan Dam.

“We were the first house on what I would call the first road. You would turn left, and the hospital was up above us. When I was there, it was no longer being used. There was a big lot that might have had something to do with the hospital, since nothing was ever built on it. Mother had a huge fenced-in chicken yard back there. She had ducks, chickens and flowers galore.

“Our house had a screened-in porch, small living room, dining room and kitchen. There were two bedrooms on the left side, a small hall that connected those and a bathroom. There was a back porch, where the washing machine was. Daddy built a workshop across the back road, where he worked on radios and televisions.

“We had the first TV at Jordan Dam because daddy did that kind of stuff. Up until then, we were like everyone else and all we had was radio. I can remember sitting in that living room and listening to that radio and picturing in your mind what they were talking about.

“At first, we just had the phone that went through the switchboard at the dam. But then later we got two party lines. … That was a lot of fun. When I grew up there, there were lots of kids, from first grade through almost college age. We all got along good together. It didn’t matter how old you were. … It was ‘What were you doing?’ and ‘Yeah, I want to do that.’

“My daddy loved working for the power company. Besides his family, it was his life. He thoroughly enjoyed every minute he spent there. If our daddies were working on switchboard, we could call them and ask to go see them. I miss that.

“At Jordan Dam, nothing was fancy, but it was just almost like it was supposed to be. Normal people from beginning to end … they didn’t have much, but they appreciated what they had. We shared with each other. That’s family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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