All about the Kinzua Dam Pronounced "kin-zoo," by local residents, and "kin-zew-uh" in the Seneca language, the Kinzua Dam is one of the largest dams in the United States east of the Mississippi River. Its construction in the 1960's was controversial because it forced the relocation of the entire town of Kinzua and the departure of Pennsylvania's last Native Americans, the Senecas, who now live nearby on the northern shores of the flooded land near Salamanca, New York. In addition to flood control and power generation, it created Pennsylvania's deepest inland body of water, Kinzua Lake, the Allegheny Reservoir.
A lawsuit against breaking the oldest U.S. treaty which guaranteed perpetual Seneca ownership of the land had been argued by the Society of Friends (Quakers) but it lost when the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review a lower court finding in 1961.
The American country western singer, Johnny Cash, wrote a song about the plight of the Seneca Indians, whose leader, Chief Cornplanter, was a significant figure in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution and annexation of Pennsylvania land to the U.S.
This was one of the first Native American rights songs and pre-dated popular protest folk music of the later 1960s.
Visit this link to to listen and watch Johnny Cash sing it with June Carter and Pete Seeger accompanying.
Authorized by the Flood Control Acts of 1936, 1938, and 1941, actual construction was begun by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1960 and completed in 1965. Pittsburgh businessmen had been lobbying Congress for this for decades prior to its authorization.
As early as 1910 they had been lobbying for such a project to protect the valley in which Pittsburgh is located. The dam itself may be emblematic of a maturing country in which the post-Civil War industrial revolution catapulted our nation into preeminence just after World War I. Incognizant of the consequences, mineral and timber extraction turned our area into the "Allegheny Brush Patch." The entire area around Warren was denuded of its trees with oil derricks taking their place.
Destruction of the watershed amplified any flooding because the terrain could not sponge up any water, channeling it into the river with dire consequences here and particularly downstream.
The watershed destruction was so bad that in 1923 the U.S. Congress took over, establishing the half-million acre Allegheny National Forest, perhaps one of the greatest reclamation stories in our history.
The main purpose of the dam is flood control on the Allegheny and Ohio rivers. This dam controls drainage on a watershed of 2180 square miles or an area twice the size of the state of Rhode Island. Side benefits derived from the dam include drought control, hydroelectric power production and recreation.
The total cost of construction was approximately $108 million. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kinzua more than paid for itself in 1972 when tropical storm Agnes dumped continual heavy rains on the watershed, bringing the lake to within three feet of its maximum storage capacity. Over $247 million in downstream damages were prevented.
Engineering notes: Length of Dam 1,897 feet, Maximum Height of Dam 179 feet Earthfill, in Cubic Yards 3,000,000 Concrete, in Cubic Yards 500,000 Penstocks, Diameter (Pipes Through Dam) 19 feet.
The nearest city to the dam is Warren, Pennsylvania. Situated six miles east of the city on Route 59, it is open for public tours. The dam is located within the half-million acre Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania. A boat marina, beach, and extensive hiking trails, campgrounds, and vistas are located nearby. A proposal to set aside some of this land as wilderness in the 1990s was unsuccessful but did create the Allegheny National Recreation Area, comprising 23,000 acres which established the use of the area for camping, fishing, boating, hiking, canoeing and kayaking and other outdoor nature activities.
Congressman William Clinger and U.S. Senators Arlen Specter and John Heinz did succeed, however, in creating an Allegheny Wilderness Land, from several islands downstream, as well as at Hearts Content and Hickory Creek, south of the dam, and other small areas. Hearts Content contains the last virgin forest in our part of the world. It was set aside by its owners and has become a Registered Natural Landmark.
Today, lumbering and mineral extraction maintain a preeminent position in our local and national economies under management of the state and federal governments. Significantly, the U.S. Government has classified this region uncommonly as "Rural Industrial" due to its role as an industrial powerhouse in businesses related to oil, plastics, steel, transportation, and even apparel. It is truly a place where nature and industry thrive side by side.
Many years ago, The Allegheny National Forest estimated that there are more than a million visits annually here by outdoor enthusiasts who come to canoe, camp, hike, fish, hunt, boat, and bike.
Notes on pronunciation: Noted local radio host LeRoy Schneck pronouced the dam's name as "Kin-zew-a" as did legendary singer Johnny Cash. article updated 2/13/17