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Austin Dam Disaster

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Austin Dam Disaster

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Date Posted:January 16th, 2009
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Description: Austin Dam was a dam in the Freeman Run Valley, Potter County, Pennsylvania, which serviced the Bayless Pulp & Paper Mill. A failure of the dam in 1911 caused 78 deaths and approximately $10 million damage.

In 1900 the Bayless Paper company chose to construct a paper mill in the Freeman Run Valley and by 1909 the company realized that occasional dry seasons required the reserve water source. After finding a small earthen dam to be inadequate, the T. Chalkey Hatton firm built a large concrete dam across the valley. The dam was 50 feet (15 m) high and 550 feet (170 m) long and cost $86,000 to construct.

Within only a few months, problems were detected. The dam bowed more than 36 feet (11 m) under the pressure and the concrete started cracking. The bowing was alleviated by using dynamite to blast a 13-foot (4.0 m) space for the excess water to spill over. The cracking was claimed to be normal because of the drying cement.

On September 30, 1911, the dam failed and destroyed the Bayless Pulp & Paper Mill, as well as much of the town of Austin, Pennsylvania. The damage was approximately $10 million. It also resulted in the deaths of 78 people. The paper mill and dam were rebuilt but the papermill was lost in a later fire in 1933, and the new dam failed in 1942 with no loss of life.


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