Lake Norman Times Article

The following article was published in the Lake Norman Times on September 25, 2002.
In March of 2003, Duke Energy kindly provided us with an updated timeline.
To view the updated timeline, click here.

38 Years In the Making: Lake Norman
began with the Cowans Ford Dam,
dedicated 38 years ago this week.
By Jimmy Autrey II
Lake Norman Times
Published September 25, 2002

Cowans Ford Dam, which blocks the Catawba River to create Lake Norman, was dedicated Sept. 29, 1964. With this date in mind, we celebrate the 38th birthday of North Carolina’s largest manmade lake.

In the spirit of celebration, let’s take a look at some notable dates leading up to and after Lake Norman’s creation.

A Timeline

  • April 30, 1904 — Duke Power (as we know it) starts up.
  • Oct. 27, 1953 — Norman A. Cocke Sr. is elected fifth president of Duke Power. Lake Norman will later be named after him.
  • Oct. 4, 1956 — Duke Power announces its intention to build a nuclear reactor around Charlotte.
  • May 15, 1957 — Duke Power announces its plans for the construction of Cowans Ford Hydro Station.
  • Sept. 28, 1959 — Construction starts on Cowans Ford Dam. Hundreds of people turned out for a groundbreaking ceremony.
  • Sept. 1962 — Lake Norman State Park in Troutman is formed after Duke Power donates 1,328 acres of land.
  • Feb. 1963 — Cowans Ford Dam fills.
  • Sept. 30, 1963 — Commercial operation begins at Cowans Ford Hydro Station Units 1-3.
  • Sept. 29, 1964 — Cowans Ford Dam is officially dedicated. (This date marks the end of Lake Norman’s construction.)
  • March 1, 1965 — Marshall Steam Station Unit 1 begins commercial operation. The station was named after Edward Carrington Marshall, a president of Duke Power in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
  • Nov. 17, 1969 — Plans for the McGuire Nuclear Station are announced. The station is to be named after William Bulgin McGuire, president of Duke Power from 1959 to 1971.
  • Feb. 24, 1970 — A site is chosen for McGuire Nuclear Station. (A valentine from Duke Power?)
  • April 1, 1971 — A groundbreaking ceremony is held at the future site of McGuire. (Duke Power ain’t no April Fool!)
  • Sept. 12, 1981 — McGuire Unit 1 puts out its first kilowatt-hours of electricity. Unit 1 will begin commercial operation Dec. 1 of that same year. Unit 2 will start producing electricity in 1984.
  • June 23, 1993 — The Lake Norman Times hits newsstands for the very first time. (We like to think it is now a staple of life on the lake.)
  • Spring 1999 — The North Mecklenburg Chamber of Commerce becomes known as the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.
  • May 2002 — A Web site is launched that presses the question “Is there a monster in Lake Norman?” Check out

John Campbell: A Reflection on Change

In order to get a better sense of Lake Norman’s impact on the region, it is best to hear the facts from someone who has been on the lake since Day One.

John Campbell of Brawley School Road in Mooresville watched as the lake was built and floods of people discovered the area for the first time. That makes him qualified to be one of Lake Norman’s unofficial historians.

“The lake now covers a part of four counties that was then a neglected area,” said Campbell. The four counties that he refers to are Mecklenburg, Iredell, Lincoln and Catawba.

Before the lake’s construction, little interest was paid to the piece of land that now rests underneath the waters of Lake Norman. There was very little going on in terms of development before the lake, said Campbell. The people who lived there were poor and usually uneducated.

“It was mostly a lot of farmland,” he said.

There were once houses, churches, small businesses, roads, gardens, trees and vehicles on the land that rests at the bottom of the lake. These fixtures either had to be destroyed or moved to other locations. Some things were left untouched (including several cemeteries), destined to rest underneath many feet of water.

“They did a lot of clear cutting,” said Campbell.

Campbell said that he knew from the start that Lake Norman was going to change the area in some major ways. That’s why he decided to open up a store called John’s Trading Post on the Brawley Peninsula. The store was built in 1964, right after the creation of the lake. The store was built in an area that was previously known as Mayhewtown (it was renamed Brawley Peninsula after the lake’s construction).

“My customers were a whole slice of society,” said Campbell. “On a given Saturday, I might have college presidents, top lawyers and ordinary working people all mixing together.”

Campbell said that in the early days of the lake there were still very few people who settled in the area. His store initially had to struggle to keep afloat, but somehow the business made it through the hard times.

“There was not a lot of money at that time,” said Campbell. “Somehow it survived though.”

Campbell’s store started making more and more money as families started to make homes around the lake. In the lake’s early days, Campbell said that some wealthy people who enjoyed water sports built summer homes.

“There were a lot of break-ins in the beginning,” said Campbell. “Now it’s really safe though.”

Campbell said that a lot of problems came from disruptive early settlers in the area. He said that a lot of the people who bought summer homes on the lake sent relatives with questionable reputations to live on the lake. “There were a lot of drunks that had family members that didn’t want them around Charlotte,” he said.

Campbell said that the face of the lake really started to change in the mid-1970s, when I-77 was built. I-77 drew in a lot of people to the area.

“Houses got more permanent after that,” said Campbell. “That changed the culture of the community.”

Campbell said that there was no turning back after I-77 came in. More and more people began to discover the lake, as well as the opportunities available in Charlotte. Soon people began to see Lake Norman as an ideal place to live while they worked in Charlotte. Lake Norman is also close to several interstates and airports, making it appealing to businesses.

“It’s now a high class place to live,” said Campbell. “It’s not a backward area anymore. It’s going to develop whether the powers that be want it to or not.”

Campbell said that he had predicted Lake Norman’s growth early on, but had not been able to buy up much land as an investment. He had six children to support and had to use most of his money on them.

Today an acre of lakefront land can sell for over $1 million in certain locations. Campbell said that he is not bitter that he did not buy up a lot of the land that’s being sold now.

“I’m still the luckiest man in the world,” he said. “I’ve got six children and they are all doing well. I was able to put them all through school and they are all healthy and happy.”

Along the way, Campbell sold John’s Trading Post and opened up the popular Mallard Head Golf Course on the Brawley Peninsula.

Campbell said that he is glad to live on the lake and that he is thankful for all the blessings that the lake has given him over the years. He looks forward to what the future has in store for the area.

This article is reprinted with permission of the Lake Norman Times.