Remmel Dam is situated on the Ouachita River at Jones Mills (Hot Spring County). It was constructed in 1924 by Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L), now Entergy, in response to the growing demand for electrical power in southern Arkansas and surrounding states. The dam impounds Lake Catherine and, together with Carpenter Dam in Hot Springs (Garland County), provides hydroelectric power for southern Arkansas. Part of a three-dam project on the Ouachita River along with Carpenter Dam (completed in 1931) and Blakely Mountain Dam (completed in 1953), it played an important role in the early development of AP&L.
In 1916, former riverboat captain Flave Carpenter met with Harvey Couch, who founded AP&L in 1913, to discuss the possibility of building dams on the Ouachita River for hydroelectric power. Carpenter took Couch to the river and showed him two possible sites for the dam. Couch commissioned several engineering firms to study the river and make plans to build hydroelectric dams. After World War I, the demand for electricity began to increase, though only marginally in Arkansas. Couch foresaw the future increase in demand of electricity and sought to anticipate it by constructing a hydroelectric dam. He went to Washington DC to secure a building license and discovered that Secretary of War John Weeks, who was in charge of the licensing commission, was leaving for an extended trip to Alaska. Couch feared that a delay in getting the license would cause his New York investors to pull out. He had a chance encounter in his hotel lobby with his friend Colonel Harmon L. Remmel, who knew Weeks personally. Remmel set up an interview between Couch and Weeks, who agreed to a licensing hearing on the following Monday. At the hearing, the commission granted Couch the license to build the dam. In gratitude, Couch named it Remmel Dam. Construction on the dam began in May 1923 and was completed in December 1924.
Remmel Dam is a modified Ambursen-type dam constructed of a reinforced concrete slab supported at a forty-five-degree angle to the river bed by reinforced concrete buttresses. From the top of the gates to the bottom of the original lakebed, the dam is approximately sixty feet tall and 900 feet long. The dam contains three Francis-type turbines with generating power of an estimated 9,300 kilowatts. AP&L contracted Ambursen Construction Co. to build the dam before the emergence of modern construction methods now used as standard procedure for many major projects. The total cost of construction was $2,142,000.
Remmel Dam was the first major dam project on the Ouachita River. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 4, 1992, mainly for being one of the first major power generators for AP&L, which helped to make the company into a major utility corporation. Through the availability of electricity, Arkansas’s economy experienced strong and consistent growth, which was an important factor in pulling Arkansas out of the Depression. The power from Remmel Dam services Louisiana and Mississippi as well as Arkansas by being interconnected to the Entergy power grid.
Lake Catherine State Park, located on the lake created by Remmel Dam, was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s as one of six original state parks in Arkansas. The lake improved the economy of nearby towns of Hot Springs and Malvern (Hot Spring County) through tourism, community leisure activities, and real-estate value.
For additional information:
Deming, Ding. “Remmel Dam: Dream of Three Men Became Reality.” The Record 25 (1984): 69–73.
“Remmel Dam.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/HS0049.nr.pdf (accessed July 15, 2016).
Rhodes, Larry D. “Captain Flave Carpenter: From Riverboats to Hydrodams.” The Record 43 (2002): 13–24.
Wilson, Stephen. Harvey Couch: An Entrepreneur Brings Electricity to Arkansas. Little Rock: August House, 1986.
Will H. Smethers
Ouachita Baptist University