The Mountain Laurel
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The Pinnacles Project

By George V. Hill © 1984

Issue: September, 1984

the pinnacles projectTalbot Reservoir (known locally as "the Upper Dam") as seen from the east side. It is situated at the head of the Dan River Gorge and is a nature lover's paradise.The City of Danville's Pinnacles Hydro-Electric operation begun in 1936, was conceived some 40 years earlier by Judge J. Singleton Diggs who, while trout fishing in the Dan River, became impressed by the raw fury and power of the river as it thundered over the Great Falls and dropped a total of 600 feet between Round Meadow Creek and the head of Kibler Valley.

Judge Diggs conceived the idea of an upstream dam feeding a Kibler powerhouse generating low cost power for street lights and houses in nearby towns. Seeing an investment opportunity, he began, in 1895, to buy key tracts of land. Over the next nine years he purchased 1200 or more acres from John Barnard, James Turman and others. But then, seeking a town or a power company to buy his idea and his land, he was unsuccessful. Probably ahead of his time in those early days of electric power, he was unable to find a buyer.

In 1919, having held his land through the first World War, Judge Diggs sold it to Dr. John K. Caldwell, a Galax physician, together with E.C. Caldwell and N.M. Ward.

Dr. Caldwell realized that the river gorge was too narrow for a single dam to be adequate. He developed an expanded plan which included a second dam near the Big Bend of the Dan and a pipeline from what is now Townes Reservoir to a point above the Kibler powerhouse site. In 1921 he bought a pipeline right of way from J.M. Vipperman and, in 1922, optioned land for the upper reservoir from Asa Sehen, Nat Handy, W.E. Knowles, and Mordica Handy at typically, $2.00 per acre - although a critical tract of bottom land was optioned at $50.00 per acre. In addition, he optioned land above the lower reservoirs from Samba Puckett, J.W.I. Lawson and others. Some land owners, like Monte Light, refused to sell.

Now Dr. Caldwell, like Judge Diggs before him, began searching for a buyer. Times were better; the post World War I boom was just beginning and electric power was in a period of great expansion.

But large amounts of money were needed. A multi-million dollar project required financing which meant stock and bond sales and the services of investment houses.

After unsuccessfully beating the local bushes for a buyer, Dr. Caldwell signed a contract, in September 1929, with a New York investment group - Peoples Light and Power Co. (PL & L). He did not know, of course, that the great stock market crash of 1929 and the beginning of the great depression was only a month away.

With the crash, investment opportunities vanished. Stock and bond sales became impossible. PL & L, later to become a casualty of the depression and itself to fail, formed a new company, the Pinnacles Development Corp. (PDC), incorporated in Virginia.

The PDC optioned Dr. Caldwell's land and, in turn, issued stock. Of 2,500 shares issued, PL & L got 1000 while Dr. Caldwell and his associates got 1500

By 1930, discussions with the City of Danville began. The City received a favorable engineering report from a consulting firm and decided to option the land while awaiting a detailed engineering plan which was completed in 1934 by the Charles T. Main Co. of Boston, Mass.

In 1935 the City came to a final agreement with the Pinnacles Corp; J.K. Caldwell, President and J.M. Hooker (of Stuart, Virginia), Secretary. The agreement optioned to the City 57 or more tracts of land for $150,000 - less any costs of condemnation.

Following the agreement, the Pinnacles Corp. purchased lands of Will Banks, Martin Handy, John Hensley, John R. Lawson, Lee Cox, George Puckett, Isaac Midkiff, Jake Puckett and others.

In 1936, with construction under way, the City of Danville began condemnation proceedings against eighteen holdouts. Samuel Spruce, 408 acres (awarded $2,150), Monte Light, 70 acres ($350), and so on. As little as $3.00 per acre was paid. But some land owners including Elroy Banks and W.E. Knowles did benefit by holding out by retaining cleared land, springs, etc. below the 2700 ft. elevation contour, the original "taking boundary."

By 1938 the project was completed and the City of Danville began generating power. No one got rich - but the City of Danville got, at low cost, a dependable source of valuable peaking power. Patrick County lost the Great Falls of the Dan and a six mile stretch of wild river, but gained two beautiful blue water lakes. Dr. Caldwell got to see his years of effort come to fruition.