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Austin Dam
Austin Dam
Remnants of Austin Dam in 2008.
Impounds Freeman Run
Locale Austin, Pennsylvania
Length 540 feet (160 m)[1]
Height 50 feet (15 m)[1]
Opening date December 1909[1]
Destruction date September 30, 1911[1]
Reservoir information
Creates Austin Dam Pool
Capacity 200,000,000 US gallons (760,000,000 l)[1]
Geographical Data
Coordinates 41°39′10″N 78°05′07″W / 41.6529°N 78.0854°W / 41.6529; -78.0854Coordinates: 41°39′10″N 78°05′07″W / 41.6529°N 78.0854°W / 41.6529; -78.0854
Maintained by Bayless Pulp & Paper Company

Austin Dam was a dam in the Freeman Run Valley, Potter County, Pennsylvania, which serviced the Bayless Pulp & Paper Mill. A failure of the dam in 1911 caused significant destruction in the valley below.

In 1900, Bayless Paper chose to construct a paper mill in the Freeman Run Valley. By 1909, the company realized that occasional dry seasons required a more reliable water source. After finding a small earthen dam to be inadequate, the T. Chalkey Hatton firm built a large concrete dam across the valley. The dam was 50 feet (15 m) high, 540 feet (160 m) long and cost $86,000 to construct.[1]

Within only a few months of its completion, problems were detected. The dam bowed more than 36 feet (11 m) under the pressure of the water it was holding and the concrete started cracking. The bowing was alleviated by using dynamite to blast a 13-foot (4.0 m) space for the excess water to spill over. The cracking was claimed to be normal because of the drying cement.

On September 30, 1911, the dam failed and destroyed the Bayless Pulp & Paper Mill as well as much of the town of Austin. The damage was approximately $10 million. It also resulted in the deaths of 78 people. The paper mill and dam were subsequently rebuilt, but the mill was lost in a fire in 1933. The new dam failed in 1942 with no loss of life. The dam was not replaced after the second failure.

A documentary about the dam disaster, featuring narration by Willie Nelson, was created by Mansfield University of Pennsylvania professor Gale Largey in 1999. It includes interviews with five survivors along with original newsreel footage.[2]

The Dam Show

Eclectic music festival and colorful light show takes advantage of the natural amphitheater and historic significance of the dam ruins. The Potter County Fine Arts Council and the Austin Dam Memorial Assn. are key organizers in this event. Bands known to appear are Larry Herbstritt, The Slant (band), Redheaded Stepchild, and The Bhuddahood.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Wise, Eric (2005-09). "The Day Austin Died". Penn Lines (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association) 40 (9): 8-11. Archived from the original on 2009-09-20. Retrieved 2009-09-19.  
  2. ^ Largey, Gale. "The Austin Disaster 1911: A Chronicle of Human Character". Retrieved 2009-10-30.  


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