MPT documentary explores Conowingo Dam
— Maryland Public Television will air a documentary Monday night about a Cecil County landmark.
“Conowingo Dam: Power on the Susquehanna” begins at 9 p.m.
Michael English, executive producer, said the 90-year-old hydroelectric plant is a popular topic of discussion right now.
“There’s a lot of people with an attraction to the dam,” he said. “To some people, it’s just a simple structure. To others, it’s an icon.”
With its parent company, Exelon Generation, in the relicensing process for the facility, the proverbial floodgates have opened for those championing the health of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay. The dam also has its place in history for such events as Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and ice dams that invaded Port Deposit.
While the relicensing issue is not part of story to air, English and his crew of researchers found more than enough history to fill the hour.
“We track the history of the dam from its inception to its design and construction,” English said. “We looked at petroglyphs and the history of the river, the Native Americans and of course Port Deposit and how it changed life for the residents of Port Deposit.”
Exelon gave them a wide range of access to the inner workings of the dam for the documentary.
As a work in progress for more than four years, English reached out to Cecil Whig readers in July
The title frame for the documentary to be shown at 9 p.m. Monday on Maryland Public Television includes portions of silent movies made during construction of the almost 100-year-old Conowingo Dam.
2015 hoping to find people with early memories of the dam and Old Conowingo, the town now under water above the dam.
“We heard from a lot of people,” he said.
In spite of all the newfound information, English still didn’t have the one piece he desperately wanted.
“One day I ran across this 1932 article in a Texas engineering magazine,” he said.
The article described a film made by Stone and Webster, the Boston company that designed the Conowingo Dam. Searching online he found nothing though. Calling a reporter at The Boston Globe newspaper in an effort to determine where the company archives went when Stone and Webster went out of business led him to a link to an eBay site.
“There it is,” he said, adding he immediately got into a bidding war for “Conowingo” that started at $10.
“The guy selling it was a Hollywood director that collected old films,” English said, noting that with the winning bid of $350, he obtained a 16-millimeter copy of the original film.
“It’s a really great piece of history,” he said.
Construction of the Conowingo Dam began in 1926. Stone and Webster hired Arundel Corporation to build the massive utility that stretches from Cecil to Harford County, topped by U.S. Route 1.
Viewers watching the documentary will see clips from the silent film, which Stone and Webster had made to promote its services. Photos, archival video and stories are also woven together in the documentary.
“Anyone who watches it will get a real sense of the history of the dam,” English said.
The documentary will become available on DVD through MPT at a later date as well.
A photo from the days when the Conowingo Dam was brand new. It’s one of hundreds of photos found during research for a Maryland Public Television documentary to be shown at 9 p.m. Monday.
A photo showing the railroad tracks that brought in supplies and manpower during construction of the Conowingo Dam.