HUNTERSVILLE Steven Jester was a boy in 1963 when his family packed a picnic and drove two hours on a Sunday afternoon to see North Carolinas newest and largest reservoir.
Word had spread all across the state about Lake Norman and its 520 miles of shoreline, even to the rural crossroads community where his family lived near Virginia.
Jester was only 7 or 8, but said he will always remember the stunning sight as he stood on shore: Water stretched all the way to the horizon, he said.
For some, a 50-year period may seem like a long time, Jester said. But for those of us who were here, 50 years came and went in no time.
Jester is now Duke Energys vice president of water strategy, hydro licensing and lake services. On Monday, he and other Duke Energy officials joined business and government leaders in celebrating the lakes 50th anniversary at the Cowans Ford Hydroelectric Station, off N.C. 73 near the Mecklenburg-Lincoln county line.
Included were rare tours inside the station and atop the 130-foot-tall earthen dam.
The concrete span of the mile-long dam contains enough concrete to build a three-foot-wide sidewalk four inches thick and 2,000 miles long. Five-and-a-half million gallons of water pass through its turbine each minute, and the station at full power generates enough electricity for more than a quarter-million homes, Duke Energy officials said.
Security concerns ended public tours of the facility many years ago. The hydroelectric station and dam are near Duke Energys McGuire Nuclear Station, whose Unit 1 opened in 1981 and Unit 2 in 1984.
Commercial operation of the Cowans Ford Hydroelectric Stations first three units began on Sept. 30, 1963, marking what Duke Energy considers the official opening of the lake. Duke Energy manages the lake under federal license.
Plans for the Cowans Ford dam and hydroelectric station were announced on May 15, 1957, and Gov. Luther Hodges detonated a blast on Sept. 28, 1959, to mark the beginning of construction.
The area was all farmland and forests, Jester recalled. This was a very different place, very remote, not a lot of people, he said.
Now it attracts 3 million visitors a year, and 75,000 people live along its shoreline, Jester said. Thats pretty amazing, he said. Im not sure we could have imagined that 50 years ago.
Coupled with the many businesses and industries that have moved to the four-county lake region, its hard to imagine another reservoir thats had an impact on an entire region as this one has, Jester said.
Mondays gathering also included family members of executives of the former Duke Power Co. who oversaw the lakes formation.
Van Cocke came from his home in Linville. He is the grandson of former Duke Power president Norman Atwater Cocke, for whom the lake is named.
Van Cocke, 62, grew up in Charlotte and witnessed the lakes construction. He recalled how workers drove high-water mark stakes into the ground after the land had been cleared for the lake but was still dry.
That made for some interesting sights, he said, including looking a half-mile out onto dry land in 1962 to see where his familys pier had been built.
His grandfather bought five lake lots in eastern Lincoln County for $3,000 apiece and insisted on nothing pretentious, Van Cocke said.
His grandfather built a two-story home with two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen and no air conditioning at first, Van Cocke said. It was basically a weekend getaway home from Charlotte, in a setting for boating and fishing. Beside the home was the familys Bunk House with bunk beds for the children, and another structure to store the lawn mower and tools, Van Cocke said.
His grandfather was a normal-type guy, Van Cocke, 62, said. He and my grandmother werent flamboyant. He was just a hardworker.
As for Lake Norman: My grandfather would be very proud of the lake today, Van Cocke said.
Marusak: 704-987-3670; Twitter: @jmarusak
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