Spoonville Dam: History & Removal

SPOONVILLE DAM (Photo by Joyce Kennedy)

Looking down on the Farmington River in Tariffille Gorge, it’s easy to forget for over a century a dam spanned the river. Built in the 1899, the Spoonville dam was designed to provide electric power to Hartford. Shortly following its completion it was threatened by major flooding in 1900, and would eventually be destroyed in 1955 by flooding caused by a hurricane.

The same location, in-between Bloomfield and East Granby, was again considered for use as a hydroelectric facility in 1980 when Northeast Utilities saw it as an opportunity to reduce their use of oil. Northeast Utilities spokesman Emmanuel Ford was interviewed by Robert Levy in the November 21st, 1980 edition of the Hartford Courant regarding the consideration of a dam-rebuild.

“Estimates show the dam could produce eight million kilowatt hours a year, a savings of 13,000 barrels of oil during a year” Ford stated. The cost of a barrel of oil spiked from $2 a barrel in 1971 to $30 in 1980 (and currently sits at a price of roughly $51).

While in the process of seeking a permit to study the feasibility of rebuilding the dam, concerns began to arise concerning the effect a dam rebuild would have on aquatic connectivity and the nationally renowned rapids. Ronald Pfeffer, the executive director of the Farmington River Watershed Association in 1980, reiterated these concerns in same Hartford Courant article.

“Tariffville Gorge is recognized throughout the Northeast, Pfeffer said, as having one of the best whitewater canoeing courses in the region. Were the dam rebuilt, he said, “It would mean the end of the usage of the present whitewater course.”

Tariffville Gorge, or “T’ville” as locals often call it, has long been regarded as one of Connecticut’s premier white water paddling locations. According to AmericanWhiteWater.org, Tariffville contains some of the most consistent class II-III rapids in Connecticut. The site of the former dam is popular with “park and play” boaters who take advantage of the variety of play holes in the area. The area has also played host to events such as the T’Ville has also hosted the North American Junior Olympics Festival in recent years.

In 2012 the remaining fragments of the dam were removed in a project coordinated by the Farmington River Watershed Association. The remaining pieces of the dam, which were considered a public safety hazard as well as a severe obstacle to fish passage, were dismantled by machine and trucked off the site for recycling. Before construction began executive director of the FRWA, Eileen Fielding, stated by press release:

“This project is an important step forward in our effort to promote fish migration and we appreciate CL&P’s vital support. Removing the dam and revealing the bedrock falls beneath it will also make this dramatic gorge look even better as a scenic destination.”

By the time removal efforts were completed, roughly 2,000 cubic yards of concrete had been removed from the river without disturbing any of the existing features that make this location a must-visit for white water paddlers. The site looks today much like it would have over a century ago, but those familiar with the area will likely never forget the Spoonville Dam.

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