ROGERSVILLE — On the worst day of flooding this month, the 239-year-old Amis Mill dam wall closest to the road was under so much pressure it was vibrating, and two weeks later the strain of floodwaters continues to take its toll on the historic structure.
Jake Jacobs, who owns the Amis Mill historic site 2 miles south of Rogersville with his wife Wendy, said Wednesday he’s concerned that the dam will be lost if it isn’t repaired soon.
The bank has eroded away from the far side of the dam, and on the side closest to Bear Hollow Road a new "geyser" has sprung from the rock foundation where there's supposed to be solid ground behind it.
Jacobs told the Times-News Wednesday that means floodwater backed up on the upstream side of the dam is undermining the ground surrounding the dam.
There's a sign on a tree on the near side of the dam urging visitors to "Please keep off the dam," which Jacobs said is becoming more urgent advice now that the dam is leaking in areas where it's supposed to be holding back dirt instead of water.
On the worst day of flooding on Feb. 7, the water was about 6 inches above the dam wall where it's closest to the road.
Jacobs was standing on the wall filming the flooding, which he said was the worst he’s seen in the 10 years he’s lived there.
"You could literally feel the stone vibrating," he said. "That's where the engineers told me the weakest spot was. They said keep an eye on that. When it starts to go, that's where it will start."
For several years, Jacobs and his wife have been attempting to raise money to save the dam. They have inquired about grant funds, but the fact that it’s on private property makes them ineligible.
"When that's gone it will fall in the category of Rice's Mill (built in 1775 in Church Hill) and Blue Spring House (built around 1843 in Rogersville), and pretty soon they'll just be memories of old places that used to be around here," Jacobs said. "No real experience."
An engineering study conducted in 2012 estimated the cost of restoring Tennessee's oldest laid stone dam at about $200,000, and despite several previous fundraisers, Jacobs has raised about $10,000 so far.
“Save the Dam” fundraisers have been intended to educate as well as to raise funds, and Jacobs hopes that raising public awareness about what is at stake will eventually lead to a solution.
“We’re just stewards of this land, and its our responsibility to preserve what we have so that its here for the next generation,” he said.
The dam was the first structure built by Capt. Thomas Amis when he arrived in the area in 1780. In 1781, he built the stone house, which still stands and is where Jake and Wendy reside.
The dam was built to feed Amis Mill, which was just downstream.
The dam is laid stone, so it has seams and cracks. Jacobs noted that a lot of the mortar that was in those has washed out. Water is leaking through the stones and it’s eroding, and it’s just a matter of time before it collapses.
In order to repair the dam, they must drain it, clean it and reface the upstream side.
Fortunately, the dam was originally designed with a drain, although it's located in the weakest section of the dam and Jacobs doesn't want to open it unless it’s for a total renovation.
The dam is located across the street from the Amis Mill Eatery, 127 W. Bear Hollow Road, as are the ruins of the mill and Big Creek Visitors Center, which offers educational materials about the history of the area.
Anyone interested in learning more about the dam, what needs to be done to save it, or the history of that area can call (423) 272-7040.