Lake Lanier History

There was a smaller lake on the Chattahoochee River before Lake Lanier. It was called Dunlap Dam and completed in 1908. 3 miles outside of Gainesville at the end of Riverside Drive, the back water of the dam was called Lake Warner, named after General A.J. Warner a congressman from Marietta, Ohio. Warner had come to Hall County and built a power plant on the Chestatee River. Dunlap Mill at the end of Riverside Drive helped provide electricity for Gainesville. Electric street cars transported people to the lake for boating and picnics on the lake’s sandy beaches.

There was a similar dam and mill on the other side of the lake on the Chestatee River. Bolding Mill and Dam stood where Bolding Mill Park is today.

You can also see the names of lots of old bridges over the river in the names of todays parks. These include Belton Bridge, Thompson Bridge and Keith’s Bridge (covered).

Approval Process

Congressional approval came in 1946 with the River and Harbors Act which covered waterways across the country. Congress appropriated money for new projects that included $45 million for Lake Lanier. 56% of the budget went on design and construction. 44% was spent to buy up the neccessary land and relocate families.

Buying the Land

The government had to buy 56,000 acres of private land and was probably the most difficult part of the process. Eminent Domain allowed the government to buy land for public use. To begin with, land was purchased at the south end of the lake, around the dam site. Land that would be flooded by the rising waters was purchased piece by piece over the next few years.

Construction of Lake Lanier

Ground for Buford Dam was broken on March 1, 1950 and work was completed in 1957. The seven years involved enormous amounts of construction including:

  • Three saddle dikes
  • Excavation of deep gorges for the intake and powerhouse facilities
  • Buford Dam
  • Bridges, highways, access roads and utility buidling

The Corps of Engineers oversaw the work but contracted out to private companies who did the actual construction.

February 1, 1956 (one month short of six years after the ground-breaking) the dam was closed for the first time. It took two and a half more years for the lake to form fully. On August 1, 1958 the lake reached 1067.77 feet or “full-pool” at that time.

The official dedication of the lake was held on October 1957. Many of the people involved moved on soon afterwards to build Lake Hartwell further north.

Enjoying the Lake

Boaters turned up as soon as the water started backing up. People started enjoying themselves even before water had cleared the treetops. As the lake filled it was allowed to  cover trees up to a certain level, then treetops were cut and banks cleared to reach the “full pool” level. Streetcars continued to carry people from downtown Gainseville and out to the end of Riverside Drive.


The Olympic Torch travelled across America to Atlanta. It came through Gainesville and was rowed across Lake Lanier at the canoe and kayak venue. Huge temporary stands were erected to seat the spectators.


  • The Heritage of Hall County, 1818-2001
  • Gainesville 1900-2000
  • Pictoral History of Hall County to 1950


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