Construction of the Little Elkhorn Lake and Dam, 1912

One of the most important needs in city planning is water sources. In 1912, the Elkhorn Dam construction reached completion in Jenkins Kentucky.

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The Little Elkhorn Reservoir

We will update this article as more information is found on the Elkhorn Dam and Little Elkhorn Lake.
History is often messy. While we are sure some of the subject matter in this post may stir up controversy among the residents of Jenkins. Our goals have never been of a political nature. Or to stir up controversy or panic. Our goals have always been to preserve and accurately report historical events as they happened. We do so by staying as true to our source material as we can. Although, because it is history, there are always gaps in our information. When this happens we examine all the evidence we have and look for clues in other reported events. These clues are often found in stories that occurred prior to or just after the event that we are reporting on. We take this information and just like a jigsaw puzzle we try to accurately report the event without inserting our opinions. That being said; what we do is never easy. A simple 10 to 20-minute story/video may take days, weeks, or even years to compile and unfortunately, they are never complete. This is simply because more and more information is being digitized. Each day documents thought missing, lost, destroyed, or stolen are being found in private collections or misplaced dusty boxes of files in some storeroom.

Elkhorn Dam under construction
Jenkins Dam Construction July 31, 1912. The photographer is unknown

That being said we have done a tremendous amount of research on the Elkhorn Dam and the Little Elkhorn Lake. Although we agree that the dam is in need of and must be repaired. We are not going to weigh our opinions on how the repair operation should proceed. That is for the voting residents of Jenkins to decide. We believe that IF enough of the people living in Jenkins get involved in the project. That they and local elected officials will see the project through and ensure that what is done is in the best interest of the town and all the citizens of Jenkins. This means that you the reader, and the viewer of this post/video ARE the judge and jury in this matter.
All that being said, we thought it may help IF you knew how the Elkhorn Dam was constructed. As well as a reminder of the history that has occurred to bring this 110-year-old Landmark and us all to this point.

The Construction of the Elkhorn Dam

One of the most important needs in city planning is water sources. In 1912, the Elkhorn Dam construction reached completion in Jenkins Kentucky. The Consolidation Coal Company built two such reservoirs. The largest was the Little Elkhorn Lake, the other was the Goodwater Reservoir.

Goodwater Reservoir, Jenkins, Kentucky, March 1, 1912. The photograph appeared in the Mountain Eagle June 6, 1912

Consol contracted with the J.S Byers and Sons company out of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania to build these reservoirs. The natural limestone spring on the side of Pine Mountain was the perfect place for the smaller “Goodwater” reservoir. This reservoir was the first to be completed. And although we said it was smaller, the Goodwater reservoir held 1.2 million gallons. In addition, it was more than 30 feet deep at the site of the dam. So deep that years later when it was converted into the town swimming pool, it caused some serious problems. It was discovered that the converted “swimming pool” was so deep that those attempting to dive to the bottom of the pool often got the bends shortly after surfacing. The reservoir had to be drained, filled in, and reconstructed. The main purpose of the Goodwater reservoir was drinking water for the town. An army of plumbers would run pipes from this reservoir all through the towns of Jenkins, Dunham, and Burdine. By 1920 most of the houses and businesses had running water and fireplugs ran throughout the towns.

Elkhorn Dam in Jenkins, Kentucky on October 14, 1912 The photographer is unknown

The nearby Little Elkhorn Creek was chosen as the site of the larger dam. The main purpose of this damn was steam. Generating steam to drive turbines in order to generate electricity requires a tremendous amount of water. To meet the need of the Power Plant that Consol was having constructed nearby. The Elkhorn Dam was designed to hold 70 million gallons of water. The lake would flood over 14 acres of land when full at an elevation of 1562 feet. J.S Byers & Sons would use a reported 5,000 cubic yards in its construction. But what is not recorded except in photos of the Elkhorn Dam being built is the amount of steel that was used. The Elkhorn Dam was planned for and built a mere 21 years after the Johnstown Pennsylvania flood. Another unknown is how many of the men on Consol’s board of directors had ties to the “Hunting Club” that owned the failed Johnstown reservoir. In any case, from looking at the construction photos of the Elkhorn Dam being built Consol was taking no chances of another failed dam catastrophe.

The natural topography of the area lent itself to a narrow gorge of Little Elkhorn Creek. The placement of the dam in the gorge would make it easier to build the dam and lake. This would solve the issue of serving the Jenkins Power Plant as well as the homes of the area with running water.

At one time, the lake had many activities. These activities included swimming, fishing, paddleboat rides, skiing, sailboats, canoes, and picnic areas. Most of these are now forbidden on or around the lake.

1936 Road Construction Damage

Elkhorn Dam in Jenkins, Kentucky on December 2, 1912. The photographer is unknown

We do know that when the US 23 went down Pine Mountain in 1936, it needed a dedicated roadway. The Lakeside road could not been widened to handle the traffic. To remedy this situation, they blasted away part of the hillside of the natural gorge to install a highway. Due to the close proximity of the road to the Elkhorn Dam, there was damage. We cannot find the extent of the damage or if there was compensation proposed to fix this damage. We are leaving this space open for future finds when more information become available.


November 10, 2012, after the noon hour, the city of Jenkins had a huge surprise. A size 4.2 earthquake shook the sleepy small town at a depth of 10.56 miles or seventeen kilometers underground. The epicenter was ten miles or sixteen kilometers away from Whitesburg, Kentucky. The epicenter’s location was Blackey, Kentucky.

There is a conflicting report of the stats of the earthquake. This comes from Zheming Wang of the University of Kentucky’s Geologic Hazard’s Section. Wang lists the quake at a 4.3 size and a depth of twelve miles.

This was not due to mining activity but to an earthquake fault that had not been before discovered. Even though blasting in the area is common for surface and underground mining.

Residents gave reports of the tremors from this earthquake from several states. People in Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina reported the shock waves from it.

It would be the fourth largest recorded earthquake in the state of Kentucky. The strongest recorded earthquake in the state of Kentucky was in 1980 in Bath County. The Bath County earthquake had a size of 5.3. A lesser earthquake also happened in Bath County of a size of 4.6 in 1988. Ballard County had a 4.5 size earthquake in 1972.

Testing the Dam

Elkhorn Dam, Jenkins, Kentucky. Date and photographer unknown

Inspectors from the Kentucky Division of Environmental Protection came to Elkhorn Lake. They joined with Jenkins City Officials and Paul Nesbit an engineer.

While the findings were that the Little Elkhorn Creek stream was ten times larger. There was not a concern for panic. But it was going to be a huge problem for the future of the dam in later years.

A new leak was also discovered at the dam. The reason given was that all dams have leaks and the new one was not impeding the structural integrity of the dam.

Flood of February 6, 2020

Elkhorn Dam in Jenkins, Kentucky. February 6, 2020. Photograph: WYMT

A growing need to repair the aging dam came into sharp focus on February 6, 2020. With a huge rainstorm and melting ground ice, the water in Elkhorn Lake began to overflow its banks. The mounting water pressure caused great concern for the residents.

The state of Kentucky has stressed that an emergency plan of action should be in place. There is no immediate threat to the dam. But, over the years there have been moments of anxiety by the residents who live downstream. As of the writing of this article, no comprehensive emergency plan of action is in place. There are thirty percent of the local resident population is vulnerable.

Need for Repair

It is not our goal to panic anyone with this article or video. Only to bring the history of Little Elkhorn Creek Dam. Here at Kentucky Tennessee Living it is our wish to see the dam repaired. And the lake restored to its former glory and for the residents there to remain in peace. From everything we have read about the subject, there is no reason for panic. But it is time for preventative actions. Including an emergency action plan.

It has now been 110 years later, and the dam needs repairs. Listed as one of the most dangerous dams in the state of Kentucky. The reason is that Jenkins sits on a fault line and there are signs that the dam is weakening with age. There is now a small leak, and some rebar has started showing on one side. The estimated cost of repairs could be as high or higher than $3.5 million dollars. We do applaud the City of Jenkins for its efforts. They are petitioning for grants from the governments to do the necessary repairs. Mayor Todd Depriest does give up-to-date reports on the status of those grants. The City of Jenkins is waiting on approval from the Federal Government to improve the historic dam and water system.

The Little Elkhorn Lake of Jenkins Kentucky Slideshow.

This will show the currently available photographs of Elkhorn Lake’s construction and completion from 1912 through the 1930s.

Elkhorn Dam and the Little Elkhorn Lake History Video


A Kentucky River Area Development District
Health Impact Assessment

At 108 years old, the Elkhorn Dam in Jenkins is in need of a face lift

The Jenkins, Kentucky Photographic Collection

Elkhorn Lake

Elkhorn Lake

Kentucky Earthquake Not Due to Mining: Geologist

Kentucky Testing Dam for Possible Earthquake Damage
November 28, 2012

Mountain Eagle
June 6, 1912

The History of Consolidation Coal Company 1864-1934
Pages 61-62
Compiler: Charles E. Beachley
New York, NY
Published on the company’s seventieth anniversary

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When we forget our past and who we are as a people, then we become who “they” say we are. ~~ David Sergent

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