Miner Institute Online Archives


Hydroelectric Projects of Heart’s Delight Farm

William Henry Miner had numerous hydroelectric projects providing electricity to Heart’s Delight Farm and several Town of Chazy buildings. The projects began in 1907 with a series of dams on Tracy Brook in the town of Chazy. These dams created the reservoir known as Lake Alice. In 1911 construction of the Altona Dam, known locally as the Million Dollar Dam began on the southeast portion of the Altona Flat Rock. At 2300 feet long and 30 feet tall, the project had a reservoir with a 1.5-billion-gallon storage capacity, the dam was to be the largest ever constructed in Northern New York. Despite facing numerous setbacks, the project took only 24 months to complete with more than 500 workers on site. The Altona Hydroelectric Project began producing power in 1917 and operated successfully for several years. However, Miner realized the Altona Dam would not provide enough electricity for the growing needs of the Heart’s Delight Farm, Chazy Rural School, and other Town of Chazy buildings.

Consequently, William Miner began construction of what was perhaps his most elaborate hydroelectric project on McGregor Pond in 1922. The 1500-foot slab and buttress dam with an additional 1800 feet for concrete wings and built-up earth on the sides stood along the Great Chazy River to dam up McGregor Pond as a reservoir. The dam stood at 35 feet and had an 80-foot spillway added to facilitate the natural flow of the Great Chazy River. While it is often overshadowed by the “Million Dollar Dam” project at the Altona Flat Rock, it is believed this project cost significantly more than the Flat Rock project.

Miner Lake, as the reservoir created by the dam is known today, is located at the junction of 190/Military Turnpike and Devils Den Road in the town of Altona, NY. The Great Chazy River, originating at Chazy Lake in Dannemora, feeds the lake before ending at Lake Champlain. At the base of the dam, a gatehouse controlled water intake through a 72-inch diameter penstock. The penstock, supplied by the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Company for $56,000 was built with one-quarter inch steel. Expansion joints every 1,000 feet allowed for safe expansion and contraction of the penstock during temperature and pressure changes. The penstock carried water almost a mile along the Great Chazy River and down a 115-foot elevation drop. This created pressure known as the hydraulic head. Hydraulic head is simply a measurement of water pressure created by liquid surface elevation.

A 124-foot tall Johnson Differential Surge Tank stood immediately upstream from the powerhouse over the Great Chazy River. The cost of the surge tank was $14,000. Placed between the penstock and powerhouse, it was designed to manage rapid variations in water pressure called water hammer or hydraulic shock. If not managed, the water hammer may cause the penstock to rupture or damage equipment in the penstock. The Johnson Differential Surge Tank created an air pocket for the water hammer thereby minimizing potential damage. The surge tank also held a constant reserve of water to facilitate turbine movement.

Adjacent to the surge tank is the McGregor Powerhouse. As with Heart’s Delight Farm, William Miner did not construct a simple powerhouse. Instead, Miner commissioned an elaborate Spanish Mission-style building over the Great Chazy River. Designed by Miner architect Frederick Townsend out of Chicago was as elaborate inside as it was out. The six-story powerhouse had furnished apartments on the three upper levels for workers operating the powerhouse to live with their families. There was also a wheel floor, a generator floor, and at the bottom, was the tailrace. The tailrace was designed to channel excess floodwaters through the powerhouse and not cause damage.

The penstock entered the generator floor delivering water to three Worthington Pump and Machinery Corporation turbines. Two of the turbines were 500 horsepower and the third was 1000 horsepower. The 115-foot elevation drop from McGregor Dam to where the penstock entered the powerhouse created the force needed to turn the three turbines. These turbines were then connected to three generators. The voltage generated from these units was 2,300 volts on a three-phase 60-cycle system.

The McGregor Hydroelectric System was later combined with the LaSell hydro system and the Chazy Lake Dam project to produce a total of 3.6 megawatts of power. The Miner Foundation donated the powerhouse and surrounding land to the town of Altona in 1961. The land was renamed Feinberg Park. Today, the powerhouse can still be seen from Devils Den Road. The dam is owned by New York State and part of the Ganienkeh Indian Territory.

This online collection offers a broad array of images of Miner’s hydroelectric projects. However, there is an emphasis on the Altona Dam and the McGregor-LaSell projects as these were the most documented projects on the farm.


Hydroelectric Images From the Archives

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