L/R: Gus Caton and Rufus Nelms at Bays Mountain Lake - approx 1922
L/R: Gus Caton and Rufus Nelms at Bays Mountain Lake - approx 1922

The Filter Plant

After the Dam was built in 1915-16 to serve Kingsport with drinking water, a filter plant was built below the Dam to clean the water before it ran down the pipes to the city below. To run correctly, the filter plant required operators to perform routine tasks and maintenance, such as cleaning out the filters and regulating the flow of water.

The filter plant operators and their families lived on the mountain in the filter plant operator’s house, later known as the caretaker’s house.

Very little has been known about the plant because the structures have collapsed and eroded with the passage of time, and no photos were known to exist.

But in 2021 a priceless collection of photos from 1922-1924 was discovered that show the filter plant, and what life was like for the filter plant operators and their families.

 At that time, the plant was run by Rufus Nelms and G.A. Barlow. These photos were originally donated by Ruby Nelms who lived on the mountain with them. For Ruby, it was a family affair: Rufus was her husband and G.A. was her father!

Click here to see them entertaining family and enjoying the mountain.

The reservoir filter plant remained in operation until the late 1920s, when the City of Kingsport built a new filter plant down near the Holston River. They continued to use reservoir water until 1944, but after 1930 filtering was done at the new plant.

With the reservoir filter plant no longer running after 1930, the “filter plant operator” role was changed to “reservoir caretaker”.

And from then on, their house was known as the “caretaker’s house”.

This photo was taken near the dam, looking downhill into Dolan Branch gorge. The filter plant sits on the west side of the gorge. You can see a walkway that spans the gorge, allowing the operators to walk across without climbing the rocky terrain. The Plant appears to still be under construction in this photo.

Bays Mountain Filter Plant
Filter Plant at Bays Mountain Lake/Reservoir - approx 1922
Bays Mountain Filter Plant

This view is from the gorge below the Filter Plant, looking up at the Plant and the Dam.

The wash-out tank was used to flush the filters and keep them operating properly.

"Wash Out Tank for Filter Plant at Bays Mountain - 1923"
Wash-out tank for Filter Plant