Originally created 04/14/04

Thurmond Lake rests on ancient earthquake fault



True or false?

An earthquake fault beneath Thurmond Dam prompted the filling of cracked bedrock with tons of concrete as the project took shape a half-century ago.

Yes, it's true, although the 250 million-year-old fault isn't deemed a threat.

According to the U.S. Geologic Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., the reservoir 22 miles from Augusta is a primary center of seismic action in Georgia and South Carolina.

The reason: A major artery in the Eastern Piedmont Fault System bisects the lake near Modoc, S.C., and intersects with a smaller crack - known as the Belair Fault - that runs south toward Augusta.

The largest quake measured at the dam, at magnitude 4.2, occurred Aug. 2, 1974. A magnitude-4 quake is capable of causing moderate damage.

There are plenty of other little-known snippets of trivia that help make the famous reservoir an interesting place, including the capture of a giant sea turtle on July 14, 1955.

According to newspaper accounts, H.E. Staples of Abbeville, S.C., was out fishing with his son Leon when the 95-pound turtle was hooked. It took three men to haul it into the boat "alive and kicking and strong as a mule."

At first, there was speculation that the massive reptile swam upriver from the ocean and became trapped by the dam a few years earlier. However, folks who gathered at Jake Cooley's gas station to see the turtle soon discovered the initials "A.T." carved into its belly.

The unfortunate turtle was killed and made into stew, according to news accounts.

Here are other selected anecdotes, taken from news accounts and Corps of Engineers records. Some events are reprinted from a story published in The Augusta Chronicle in 1992:

APRIL 1952: The Little River Wildlife Federation gathered in Thomson with fish and game authorities to discuss wildlife management needs for the lake area, which was said to hold 100 whitetail deer - one of the largest herds in Georgia.

SEPTEMBER 1952: Columbia County scheduled a special court term to handle a growing load of cases against people caught fishing without a license. In one day, 60 such defendants pleaded guilty and forfeited $15 bonds. Solicitor George Hains declared the lake to be "right profitable for the county."

OCT. 7, 1952: O.L. Bumpas, reservoir manager, angered farmers with a curt letter giving them 10 days to remove cattle from government land. The resulting outcry, channeled through local politicians to Congress and the corps' commanding general, yielded a reversal of the order three days later. In those days, nearly 1,000 farmers lived and farmed in the lake area.

FEB. 24, 1953: Local 4-H Club children were mobilized into teams to rescue rabbits trapped on islands by rising water. The children were paid 75 cents for each bunny. The animals were used to replenish their species in Georgia and South Carolina.

MARCH 26, 1953: A Grumman Bearcat fighter plane on a training mission crashed on the lake's shoreline. The pilot, Lt. Francis Kendall, parachuted to safety, wandered to a highway and was taken by passers-by to Lincolnton, Ga., where residents fed him a warm breakfast.

APRIL 15, 1953: Concern over the previously unheard-of problem of drunken boating on the reservoir prompted the Georgia Legislature to adopt a bill authorizing prosecution of such offenders by state game wardens.

APRIL 18, 1953: A press tour of the reservoir sponsored by Augusta's Chamber of Commerce drew interest from across the nation. NBC's Ray Scherer won a prize for the largest fish. President Eisenhower was unable to accept his invitation, but two U.S. Secret Service agents from the White House competed instead.

JULY 4, 1953: Judge Henry C. Hammond, of South Carolina, proposed a major zoo be developed at the lake. The islands, he said, would serve well as habitat for free-roaming animals. His idea, although never pursued, came from a zoo in Denver that used the same principle.

FEB. 15, 1954: A local congressman suggested renaming the lake Hamilton-Moody Reservoir. Thomas Hamilton was an editor of The Augusta Chronicle, and Lester Moody was secretary of the Augusta Chamber of Commerce. Both men supported the creation of the lake. The proposal never passed.

JULY 24, 1954: Noted angler Buck Perry, before dozens of witnesses, cast a silver Spoonplug 30 times and landed 30 bass, setting an informal record that few have since dared to challenge. "I believe I could have caught 100," Mr. Perry told a reporter who covered the event.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119,

or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.