History and Facts of Pensacola Dam

The Pensacola Dam is one of the largest dams in the United States of America. It is situated in northeastern Oklahoma, on the Grand River. The Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees got created after the dam was built in 1940. The dam is used to generate power, control floods and also to promote tourism in the area.

The history of Pensacola Dam

Pensacola Dam

Even before the Oklahoma state was commissioned, a Cherokee tribesman named Henry Holderman in 1907 pondered upon the idea of building a dam so that the electric power needs of the tribe would be met. He inspected the Grand River area and made a proposal. However, it was only in 1935 that the first steps were taken towards the construction of a dam. Work began in 1938 and in 1940 the mighty dam was inaugurated. This even led to the creation of the famous Grand Lake behind the dam.

Interestingly, the construction of the dam had once begun in 1914, but due to the World War, the construction had to be halted. However, after the war, Holderman received a lot of support and finally the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to survey the location. After much effort and a lot of speculation, the construction began in 1938 amid the Great Depression. Over 3,000 workers joined forces and the dam was ready in 1940.

Pensacola PowerhouseNaming of the dam

Have you ever wondered why the dam has the unusual name of ‘Pensacola’? Well, there indeed is an interesting story behind this. When the engineers came to survey the area before the construction began, they could not find any landmark. The only thing they came across was a small store called Pensacola which was run by a Cherokee tribesman. The name was originally used to identify the area, but eventually became the name of the dam.


Interesting facts about the Pensacola Dam

Pensacola Dam RunnerThe dam is the longest multiple arch dam in the world with a total of 51 arches. Apart from the main dam, there are two smaller sister dams called "the spillways" with 21 more gates. The main dam is so huge that a walkway and a two-lane highway have been built on top of it. The Grand Lake is the dam’s reservoir and stores about 1,672,000 acre·ft (2.062×109 m3) of water.

The Pensacola Dam is opened to tourists once every year. Free tours are available between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Thousands of people go on these tours where they are educated about the working of the dam and how the power is generated. The area is also a major tourist destination.


Indeed fascinating, the Pensacola Dam has been serving the people of Oklahoma for many decades. It is now a lifeline for the people of the area as it provides power, helps in flood control and supports the local economy by boosting tourism.