A brief history of the Fort Peck Dam

Posted at 9:04 AM, Jan 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-30 11:04:43-05

The Fort Peck Dam is a marvel in Northeast Montana.

In the heart of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Public Works Administration Act in 1933.

Almost immediately after – the Fort Peck Dam project went underway.

“They started building the dam in 1933 and completed it in 1940,” said Sue Dalby, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt was looking for political gain and working on bringing a country out of a recession. Leading to the dam’s construction. “The real reason was for flood control. Jobs in FDR’s world was also another political reason that he wanted to get this off the ground. To provide jobs in this corner of northeast Montana was pretty important.”

Governed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the construction of the dam created jobs and built the present site of the town of Fort Peck. The project brought in 10,500 men; the community couldn’t hold that capacity – leading to 18 boomtowns in surrounding areas. “That's just it. It did not. You know, they considered building dormitories in all this area west of Fort Peck town was filled with dormitories and mess halls and facilities of that nature, but they hadn't considered families.” Dalby explained.

The construction of the dam was something that hadn’t been seen before. Building multiple major diversion tunnels, 25 feet in diameter – with the capacity to carry the entire Missouri River. Using floating dredges to build the six miles of dam, two towering power houses, and a mile long spillway to the east. The construction used numerous resources including railroads and electricity that brought infrastructure to handle the voltage needed for the project. “…we can bring electricity from Great Falls. Great Falls is generating electricity already at that time. So, what is it, 280 miles that you traveled to get here? So, they brought in power lines. Everything about the project was gigantic as well, some new technology and engineering feats.”

Once completed, it created what is now the Fort Peck Lake. Creating a popular fishing spot for recreators from all over the Hi-Line. That lake also offers fresh water to towns and farmers in surrounding areas.

“Several municipalities pulled their water from the Missouri River to provide water for the town's life.” Aside from what the dam and the lake offer the people of northeastern Montana those who built it still reside in the area. “You'll notice a lot of the names in the Glasgow, Nashua, and the Fort Peck area are names of workers. You know, they had relatives that worked here on the dam, and they stuck around.” The dam is a perfect example of American ingenuity

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