Embracing the Cedar River

July 1, 2012
By Mike Cherry, PE, and Martin Weber, PE

For more than 150 years, the Waverly Dam has been an integral part of picturesque Waverly, Iowa; population 10,000.

In 1853 city founder William Harmon built his family a cabin on the Cedar River's heavily wooded east side and a dam of stone and timbers to power his sawmill, which would provide lumber for the growing town. Additional water-powered mills followed, including a flour mill and a woolen mill. By the 1880s entrepreneurs had built a more uniform and durable crib dam to harness the river's power for industrial use. The crib dam was constructed using large timbers connected with steel spikes to form "cribs," then hand-filled with stone to add weight.

Waverly boasts the oldest operating hydroelectric plant in the state (circa 1908), which annually saves the city $100,000 on electricity. Over the years the river's value to the city's industrial and economic development led to extended development on the adjacent floodplain and a need for more power.

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