By Matthew LaRoche, Special to the BDN
In 1840, William Parrot and Zebulon Bradley were engaged by the owners of T6 R11 WELS to explore the feasibility of redirecting the flow of water on the Allagash headwater lakes. They determined that if a dam was constructed at the natural outlet of Chamberlain Lake — now called Lock Dam — and a short canal was dug at the south end of Telos Lake, water could be diverted into Webster Lake and down the East Branch of the Penobscot River.
Lock Dam was constructed the next year. A canal was dug — Telos Cut — and Telos dam was built at the outlet of the lake to control the flow of water that had been diverted from flowing down the Allagash. With the raising of the waters the task of changing the flow from north to south was accomplished. Allagash Pine logs could now be driven to the lucrative lumber market in Bangor!
Lock Dam washed out the first spring, lowering the water in Telos and Chamberlain Lake by some 11 feet, rendering Telos Dam useless. Hence the name, “The Dam in the Woods” was given to the structure.
Lock Dam was rebuilt the following year raising the water level in Chamberlain and Telos Lakes to the current level.Telos Dam has been rebuilt several times over the last 170 years. The first dams were crude log structures with wooden gates. The current timber crib dam was rebuilt in 1981 using pressure treated timbers; it has an expected lifespan of at least 40 years.
Timber crib dams were once a common sight in the north woods of Maine. The primary purpose of these dams was to control the flow of water for the spring log drives. Remnants of these dams can still be seen at the outlet of most of the lakes in the North Maine Woods.
When I first started on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway there were timber crib dams at: Kokadjo, Harrington, Caucomgomoc, and Churchill. The only ones I know of — that are still operable — are at Telos and Millinocket Lake. The rest have been replaced by concrete and steel structures or allowed to fall into disrepair.
Telos Dam enabled the owners to control the flow of water down Telos Cut and thus collect a toll per 1,000 board feet of lumber from any upstream landowner who wanted to drive logs to the Bangor lumber market. Human nature being what it is, the toll was soon raised to the unreasonable amount of fifty cents per 1,000 board feet. Upstream landowners screamed highway robbery! Tensions grew and armed guards were hired to enforce the toll. Eventually, the Maine Legislature settled the dispute and set the toll at twenty cents per 1,000 board feet.
Bangor Hydroelectric Company eventually gained control of the dams at Telos and Chamberlain and managed the water resources of the lakes for downstream power generation. In the year 2000, these dams were donated to the State of Maine and then became managed by the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
When the dams started to show signs of deterioration in 2008, the Bureau of Parks and Lands developed a plan for needed repairs. Some concerned citizens and businesses formed a nonprofit group to help maintain these important water control structures; Lock Dam Preservation Ltd. was born. The group has been instrumental in supporting the waterway with engineering expertise, labor, equipment and money for maintaining these two dams. Without their help, I doubt that we could have accomplished what we have over the last few years. This help has included the replacement of the four primary gates in Telos Dam.
Last month, the waterway completed a clean-up of the Telos Dam lot. We demolished all the buildings that were on site, put to bed 3,200 feet of access road that went along the shore of Telos Lake, and constructed 1,600 feet of new access road that connects with the land management road network just east of the dam.
Now that the area around Telos Dam has been returned to a more natural environment, I can’t help but think of the time — not too long ago — when dam keeper Jim Drake lived on site and kept a watchful eye on all that happened on his little piece of the earth. Jim was always good for a cup of coffee and a story about how things were when the waterway was just getting started in the 1960’s.
The recent changes at the dam are just another chapter in the long colorful history of the, “Dam in the Woods”.
Telos Dam is one of several culturally important historical sites in the AWW. It is important to canoeists and sportsmen that use the AWW. It maintains water levels that provide for a deep water channel between Telos and Chamberlain Lakes, and water frontage for campsites and Nugent’s sporting camps on Chamberlain Lake.
It also serves as a barrier to non-native fish species should they become established above Grand Pitch on Webster Stream, and it enhances the fisheries in the East Branch of the Penobscot drainage.
Telos and Lock Dams are managed by the AWW for recreational and fisheries management purposes.
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is managed by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Division of Parks and Public Lands.
For general information on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, go to: http://www.maine.gov/doc/parks/; call 207-941-4014; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or write to the Division of Parks and Public Lands, 106 Hogan Road, Bangor, 04401.
Matthew LaRoche is superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.