1963-2013: Lake Norman at 50
At the Sept. 28, 1959, groundbreaking for the dam that created Lake Norman, United Methodist Bishop Nolan Harmon offered a prayer.
“May the land lost prove prosperity gained, and the valleys that can no longer sing with corn ..., sing through lofty wires, that carry their strength to far-off places,” Harmon invoked, as recounted in the 1986 book “Lake Norman: Our Inland Sea” by Bill and Diana Gleasner.
“Let the many-contoured lake that is to be prove a joyous haven for happy families in its season, be nature’s refuge for fish that swim and birds that fly, its surface reflecting with untroubled face the peace of quiet and holy skies.”
To those who’ve lived on the lake over its 50 years, it would seem that God answered Harmon’s prayer.
Today, Lake Norman is one of the fastest-growing areas of the Charlotte region, with thousands of waterfront homes, booming towns and thriving recreation and tourism industries. It also has many of the problems associated with fast-growing areas – problems like traffic congestion and development conflicts.
On that day in 1959, Gov. Luther Hodges set off a dynamite blast on the east bank of the Catawba River to mark the groundbreaking. Cowans Ford Dam at the hydro station created the lake, the largest manmade body of fresh water in North Carolina, when it dammed the Catawba River. The dam is 7,387 feet long, including more than a mile of earthen dam. The concrete portion of the dam is 1,279 feet long and 130 feet high. Three units began generating electricity.
Lake Norman is 32,510 acres at full pond, has 520 miles of shoreline and is 33.6 miles long and about 8 miles wide.
Although we celebrate the 50th anniversary this year, Lake Norman’s roots go back even further than that. Here is a timeline of significant events in the evolution of the state’s largest manmade lake:
Sept. 28, 1959: Groundbreaking held for Cowans Ford Dam. Work will take four years, and another two years for Lake Norman to fill. Not a stone’s throw from where the governor stands is the spot where, on Feb. 1, 1781, Revolutionary War Gen. William Lee Davidson was killed by the British at the Battle of Cowans Ford.
The lake is named after retired Duke Power president Norman Atwater Cocke.
1961: Lake Norman Yacht Club is incorporated, with 25 charter members, even before the lake is filled. Members choose the 27-acre site off Brawley School Road in southern Iredell County because of its convenience to many Carolina cities, and “we knew there would never be 100 sailors in Charlotte,” according to a club history. .
1962: Duke Power State Park, now Lake Norman State Park, is formed when Duke Power Co. donates 1,328 acres on the northeastern shore of the lake for a state park, in Troutman.
March 1963: Duke Power declares the lake full.
Sept. 30, 1963: Cowans Ford Hydro Station off N.C. 73 in Huntersville begins commercial operation, marking what Duke Energy says is the official date of the lake’s creation.
1963: Country Corner Marine opens on River Highway (N.C. 150 West) in Mooresville. The family-owned business is the oldest marine sales and service business on the lake.
1963: The Porter Wagner Trio, stars of the Grand Ole Opry, performs at the former Commodore venue off Stutts Road in Mooresville to drum up Lake Norman lot sales. Lots were available for $795 on up, according to a period newspaper ad for the concert.
Sept. 29, 1964: Gov. Terry Sanford is keynote speaker at the dedication of Cowans Ford Dam.
1965: Duke Power’s coal-fired Marshall Steam Station on N.C. 150 in Terrell, Catawba County, begins commercial operation. The four-unit plant is named after E.C. Marshall, president of Duke Power from 1949 to 1953. One of the largest coal facilities owned by Duke Energy in the Carolinas, Marshall generates enough electricity to power about 2 million homes.
1966: Wher-rena Boatland opens off West Catawba Avenue in Cornelius as one of the first marinas, boat dealerships and restaurants on the lake. Its founders name it after their grandparents, Wherry and Rena Junker.
1967: Fourth unit at Cowans Ford Hydro Station begins operation.
1971: Groundbreaking is held for McGuire Nuclear Station off N.C. 73 in Huntersville It is named after William Bulgin McGuire, president of Duke Power from 1959 to 1971.
1973: Griffin “Dip” Kale and his wife, Elsie, open Lake Norman Marina in Sherrills Ford.
1973: Plans for Marine World quashed. Developers withdraw plans for the 64-acre complex after Davidson refuses to provide sewer service. The project at Davidson Landing off Interstate 77 Exit 30 would have included an aquarium, yacht club, boutiques, restaurants, chapels, theaters and a convention center with high-rise hotels, according to a Sept. 14, 1973, article in The Davidsonian. Proponents, including then-U.S. Rep. and future-Gov. Jim Martin, touted the economic benefits, while opponents were concerned about increased boat and vehicular traffic and noise.
1974: Big Daddy’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar opens on River Highway (N.C. 150 West) in Mooresville. Owner Tommy Lancaster was a merchant in Wayne County in Eastern North Carolina who was known for giving candy to local orphans, who nicknamed him Big Daddy. He often took his family to Kure Beach, where he opened his first Big Daddy’s in 1962. After Lancaster retired in 1981, his son Bud continued to operate Big Daddy’s and developed Skipper’s Marina on Perth Road in Troutman.
1981: Unit 1 at McGuire begins commercial operation.
1984: Unit 2 at McGuire begins commercial operation.
1986: Lake Norman Yacht Club buys its property from Duke Power Co.
1989: Work starts on Crescent Resource’s The Peninsula community on Lake Norman in Cornelius, Captain’s Cove in Iredell County, Willow Cove and Tranquil Harbor in Lincoln County and McCorkle Landing in Catawba County.
1991: Queen’s Landing/Lake Cruises Inc. opens on River Highway (N.C. 150 West) in Mooresville as a joint venture between close friends Jack Williams and the late Bud Lancaster. The dining and entertainment complex was originally anchored by its primary attraction, the Catawba Queen, a custom replica of a Mississippi riverboat that continues to offer sightseeing and lunch and dinner outings.
1992: Interstate 77 Exit 25 opens in Huntersville.
1993: The Genaro family buys Sherrills Ford-based Lake Norman Motel, which opened in the 1970s, and the accompanying Landing Restaurant and Marina and begins extensive upgrades. The Landing offers the lake’s first known water taxi. Many of the motel’s patrons are out-of-state workers at the nearby Marshall Steam Station
1996: Work begins on Crescent Resources’ Sailview community in Denver.
1998: A second riverboat, the “Catawba Belle,” joins the Catawba Queen at Queen’s Landing.
1998: Crescent Resources begins selling lots in The Point community on Brawley School Road in southern Iredell County; work also begins on the company’s Northview Harbour community in Sherrills Ford.
October 2003: Lowe’s Companies Inc. opens corporate campus off future Interstate 77 Exit 31 in south Iredell.
2004: Duke Energy begins installing flue gas desulfurization equipment – commonly known as scrubbers – at Marshall Steam Station. The equipment will lower the station’s sulfur dioxide emissions by about 95 percent. The project was completed in 2007.
2005: The Catawba Belle retires to Arkansas, where it is renamed “Miss Liberty.” “Lady of the Lake,” a 90-foot luxury yacht, replaces the Catawba Belle at Queen’s Landing in Mooresville. The Catawba Queen and Lady of the Lake are the only boats of their kind on Lake Norman that are Coast Guard-certified, making them sturdy enough to charter even the coastline.
2006: Mooresville developer Rick Howard and business partners announce plans for $800 million Langtree at the Lake mixed-used community at Interstate 77 Exit 31 in southern Iredell County.
2007: N.C. Board of Transportation awards $21.4 million contract for construction of Interstate 77 Langtree Road Exit 31 -- the first new exit in the Lake Norman area since Exit 25 opened in 1992.
2012: General Assembly in Raleigh approves high-occupancy toll lanes for Interstate 77 from Charlotte to Mooresville. Widen I-77, a Lake Norman area citizens group opposed to tolls, forms in late 2012. By June 2013, the group collects 3,000 signatures on petitions opposed to the $550 million project.
March 2012: 73 percent of residents of The Point Lake and Golf Club, off Brawley School Road in southern Iredell County, approve selling their 900-lot community to real estate mogul Donald Trump. The community includes a Greg Norman-designed golf course, and tennis courts and facilities. The Point had once been operated by Crescent Resources, formerly Duke Energy’s land development arm, but the company transferred ownership to residents in late 2011. Besides paying $3 million for the club, the Trump organization pledges to spend millions on improvements. The Point was renamed Trump National Golf Club, Charlotte.
May 2012: Ohio-based developer R.L. West Properties announces that it will immediately begin building the first 300 luxury apartments and 47,000 square feet of retail space in Langtree at the Lake. R.L. West’s Langtree Development Co. secured $41 million in financing to start the project. In June, the developer names 14 restaurants and other businesses that plan to locate in the development.
October 2012: Langtree at the Lake announces plans for a 350,000-square-foot building, to be called the EthoSphere, that will be the tallest on the Interstate 77 corridor from northern Mecklenburg to Virginia. The $80 million-$90 million building also will include 12,000 square feet of adjoining meeting space that could hold about 1,000 people.
May 2013: The Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, which recommends Charlotte area road needs to the state, amends road plan to include I-77 toll lanes. In August 2013, the state Department of Transportation intends to select a private consortium to design, build, finance and operate the lanes.
June 2013: Interstate 77 Exit 35 at Brawley School Road in Mooresville is scheduled to open.
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