When the Austin Dam failed it destroyed much of Austin...and then it failed again.
What was once a dam holding back a barrage of water is now the exact opposite.
The dam failed less than a year after its completion in 1911, unable to hold back the massive potential energy of the water pooling behind it. When bowing started becoming apparent after only a few months, dynamite was used to blow a 13 ft. hole in the structure to release some of the pressure–it was no use.
The failure was a disaster for the town of Austin, as the raging torrent of water unleashed by the crumbling of the dam destroyed numerous buildings and roads, including the paper mill that supplied most of the jobs and powered the economy of the town. Even worse, 78 people were killed in the disaster.
Then, it happened again.
In 1943, the dam that was built to replace the original also failed, but this time, fortune was on the side of Austin residents, and there were no casualties. Deciding to leave well enough alone, Austin decided against rebuilding for the third time.
Generally speaking, a dam serves a singular purpose: to stop the flow of water, big or small. From beaver dams in tiny streams to massive hydroelectric dams that harness the power of raging rivers, they all impede the natural flow of water.
Now that the mighty Austin Dam has cracked in two, and a gaping hole exists between the two listing sides of the once-effective concrete structure. Thus, what was once a (nearly) rock-solid structure holding back an entire reservoir of water is now little more than an impressive bit of scenery through which a river naturally flows.
The ruins have influenced documentary filmmakers and authors, and the Potter County Fine Arts Council and the Austin Dam Memorial Association have found a way to make the cracked concrete slabs useful by throwing an annual music festival and light show at the site called “The Dam Show”. It was added to the National Resister of Historical Places in 1987.
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