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 1916-17 to serve Kingsport with drinking water, in 1919 a filter plant was added below the Dam to clean the water before it gushed down massive 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, located on the west end of the Dam.

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 had become obsolete, at least on the mountain.

This photo was taken near the dam, looking down into Dolan Branch gorge. You can see an elevated pipe routing water from the east side of the gorge to the Plant located on the west side. The Plant appears to still be under construction in this photo.

"Bays Mountain Filter Plant 1922. Operators G.A. Barlow and Rufus Nelms"
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

Structural Work on Bays Mountain Proved Big Job With Difficulties
Kingsport Times-News     August 8, 1919

Kingsport will have clear water this afternoon, for the big filtration plant, erected by the Kingsport Utilities Company on top of Bays Mountain, was completed yesterday.

Water was turned into the two filtering tanks late in the afternoon, and the clarified water was expected to reach the city through the mains today.

Superintendent C.W. Stone, of the Utilities Company, who has had supervision of the transportation of the great quantity of steel, cement, tile, lumber, hardware, ocean sand and gravel, of which the three-story filtering plant is built; C.C. Miller, who has been in charge of the building’s construction, and F.S. Hastings, of the Pittsburg Filter Company, who installed the machinery, have been at work since Feb. 19 in the erection of the building and the installation of its equipment.

Million Gallon Capacity

The Plant is constructed in two units, each with a capacity of 500,000 gallons filtration daily, and is built so that two more units may be added later.

The building is 345 feet below the dam on Bays Mountain and is built of reinforced concrete in its first two stories and of tile in its third story. Sixty-three tons of reinforcing steel and nearly 10,000 bags of cement were used in its construction, all of this material as well as the lumber, hardware, tile, sand and gravel being transported to the top of the mountain by teams, which proved one of the most difficult parts of the structural work.

Forty men have been employed constantly since Feb. 19 in the excavations and the erection of the building, which is 86 feet six inches long and 45 feet wide. It consists of a clear water well 40 by 45 feet and 18 feet deep, which holds 200,000 gallons; one sedimentation basin, 40 by 45 by 13; a pipe gallery, 22 by 20 by 12 and the two filter tanks, 11 by 16 by 10.

How the Water is Filtered

The filtration is begun when the water from the reservoir is run through a ten inch main into a concrete chamber of the plant and is mixed by a system of baffle boards with alum sulphate, which when added to the water causes all particles of clay, silt and foreign matter to be held in suspension. From the baffle board chamber the water passes into the sedimentation basis, where the alum causes the foreign matter to sink to the bottom, and from there the water flows through concrete flumes to the two filters.

The latter have at their bottom brass strainers which are screwed into two inch pipes and on which are 18 inches of ocean gravel and 30 inches of ocean sand, through which the water seeps, leaving on top the foreign matter coagulated by the alum, and thence goes into the mains to the city.

The ocean sand and gravel were brought to Kingsport from New Jersey, and like all the other material except the sand used in the structural work was transported to the top of the mountain by teams. Twenty teams were used for three weeks in this alone.

The sand for the structural work was ground on the mountain from stone, the grinder being brought from Rotherwood.

The filtration plant is flushed twice daily from a washout tank, which is located 62 feet above it. This tank is 35 feet in diameter and is 11 feet six inches deep. It is also built of concrete. The flushing water is pumped from the filter and is shot through the same pipes back to the tanks to clean them.

The construction of the plant is considered an almost Herculean task because of the obstacles of transportation to the mountain and labor conditions, and those familiar with the work have been unstinting in their praise of Messrs. Miller, Stone, and Hastings for their share of it.

Mr. Miller, particularly, who came here in February to take charge of the structural work, was confronted with most of the difficulties, but the results he has obtained with his coworkers show that he overcame them in an admirable manner and expeditiously completed a really big job.