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Who owns the dam?

An elaborate history of the ownership of the Corunna dam and mills -- 62 pages of documents, photos and stories; a "living document, subject to additions, deletions & modifications," assembled by Corunna City Manager, Joe Sawyer, in 2012

Posted by Durand Now at 11:00pm 10/18/19

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Time is short for the historic dam at Heritage Park in Corunna.  It is being removed after being deemed a safety hazard that would have been too expensive to repair.  It wasn't easy arriving at the decision to deconstruct the nearly 180 year old dam, particularly because no one knows who it actually belongs to.

Who owns the dam?

It's a question that people have been asking for at least forty years. But how we got to that point -- and to this point, the impending disappearance of that cherished old friend, is actually a pretty fascinating ride.

2019 marks 150 years of Corunna, Michigan.  Established as a city in 1869, Corunna's sesquicentennial celebration continues this year.  As it does, our sister site, Corunna Now, has been dumping all kinds of interesting historical nuggets onto a special HISTORY page, and the latest addition is pretty intense!  It's an elaborate history of the ownership of the dam and mills it was built to power; 62 pages of documents, photos and stories; a "living document, subject to additions, deletions & modifications," that was assembled in 2012 by Corunna City Manager, Joe Sawyer, with help from his staff.

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This treasure trove of fascinating local history predates the very city of Corunna itself.

Did you know the dam was built in 1841?

Corunna wasn't even "Corunna" until 1869.

Corunna Now has been kind enough to offer the following brief summary of the life of the dam at Heritage Park, but if you're ready for an adventure, you've got to explore the full 62 pages! Not to mention all the other stuff you'll find on the HISTORY page, as Corunna's sesquicentennial festivities continue.

"In late summer 2019, deconstruction of the dam, which was built even before Corunna was...Corunna, began.

The dam was built in 1841 to power a saw mill. The original saw mill was located on the east side of the river, across from the space presently occupied by the offices of Friends of the Shiawassee River. Two years later construction began on a flouring mill, also known as a grist mill, on the west side of the river, just south of the Friends' office. In 1844, a second mill was built on the east side of the river; a woolen mill, making three total mills operating alongside or in conjunction with the dam.

But in 1897, a raging flood caused by a dam break in Byron washed away the two 50-plus year old mills on the east side of the river. In 1953, a fire consumed the then-110 year old grist mill.
The dam had a structural height of about 10 feet, a normal head of 7 feet, and created an impoundment with a surface area of about 17 acres.

The length of the dam was about 200 feet, with a 25-foot-wide stop-log bay section at the right (west) abutment.

The mill site was purchased by the Corunna City Council in the year 1979 for $17,000, but even then, the dam's ownership was in question, and not formally part of the mill site purchase.

As good stewards, in absence of an owner, city officials sought options that would see the dam repaired and preserved, but the cost was deemed to significant, and grant moneys made available to lessen the fiscal impact to the city could only be applied to removal of the dam. The Friends of the Shiawassee River organization supported deconstruction of the dam, citing improved recreation opportunities and improved natural environment for fish and other wildlife.

Photos from a 2002 inspection and 2007 spillway repairs can be found on the city's website by clicking here.

A live stream of construction at the dam site can be viewed on Friends of the Shiawassee River's YouTube channel. It is made possible, in part, by DayStarr Communications.

The dam removal is expected to be completed in October 2019.

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