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Spiers Falls Dam harnessing the Hudson

Updated on April 14, 2011

Spiers Falls Dam

The great stone dam

The upper Hudson River from Bakers Falls to Hadley has a series of substantial water falls.These falls were all harnessed for water power early on.Water wheels that turned buzz saws,grinders and bellows.The falls were the work horses of the mills and factories.Later dams were built to provide more hydro power.

With the advent of electric power and the industrial revolution there was opportunity to harness the river by building a hydro electric dam.Eugene Ashley a lawyer and entrepreneur from Glens Falls NY saw the opportunity and formed the Hudson River Water Power Company in 1899.Eugene managed to gain control of the land surrounding a series of small cascades in Gansevoort NY in Saratoga County.The land is situated between two small mountains up stream from Glens Falls.The construction started in 1900.The dam was named for William E. Spier who is believed to have provided a major loan to the company for dam construction.William E. Spier was the head of the Glens Falls Paper Company.

The dam is a stone and rubble masonry design.At 157 feet high and over 1500 feet long,the base of the dam is 115 feet wide.The headwaters are at 80 feet high.The bedrock was carved out to 64 feet down and 80 feet long to anchor the stone dam.The dam was completed in 1903 and was the fourth largest dam of any kind in the world,being the largest power dam at that time.The 30,000 volt alternating current power lines provided electricity to the surrounding communities and to the General Electric Schenectady plant 50 miles away.This electric power increased the growth of industries in Hudson Falls,Fort Edward,Glens Falls,South Glens Falls and as far away as Troy NY.The dam still provides electric power today.Spiers Falls Dam is now owned by Brookfield Power and has a 56mw output.

The dam was built with stone quarried on site.As many as 1700 men were employed to do the work,many of them were Italian immigrants.Many of the Italians lived in shanties on the north side of the river.With much of the work being done on the south side of the river,including the quarrying of the stone.A small bridge was built to get the labors to the quarry.In the spring of 1903 the high water made the bridge unsafe and quarry men and masons were ferried across the river to quarry the stone.The ferry was secured by cables which pulled the worker across the river.In March of 1903 the ferry was overturned and 19 men lost their life in the swift flowing waters.

Today you can still see three major quarry areas along Spiers Falls Road.The story remains there in the rock face of the quarry were you can see the bore holes of the drills.In the base of the quarries you can still see some of the large blocks of stone lying on the ground.The stone was worked with wedges and feathers to split it,and hand chiseling and hammers to shape the blocks.Some of the tools seem ancient by today's standards,yet some are still used to this day.The dam is said to have need of few repairs.The stone work is so well done the dam is still providing power today.

This story has a companion poem The Great Stone Dam.

Spiers Falls

Spiers Falls Road:
Spier Falls Rd, Gansevoort, NY 12831, USA

get directions

The dam is located in Gansevoort ,Saratoga County New York.The land were the quarries are is in the Moreau Lake State Park.

Block of stone on quarry bed

Stone with drill holes

Notice the drill holes where the feather and wedges were placed to split the stone.
Notice the drill holes where the feather and wedges were placed to split the stone.

Some tools of the quarry men

These are some old tools used by the quarry men.
These are some old tools used by the quarry men.


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