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.


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