The Tapoco Lodge has a fascinating history. I often wondered when it was built, why and how it was named. I could imagine characters from books like “The Great Gatsby” spending time at the historic lodge, fishing, hunting and watching the Cheoah River flow by. However, before the Tapoco Lodge as we see it today existed, there was a company called The Aluminum Company of America. In 1910, the company began to look into places along the Little Tennessee River watershed that would be possible power sites for aluminum production.
Based on their investigations, the Knoxville Power Company was purchased. Negotiations were initiated with every company, small or large, owning land and having hydropower rights in the Little Tennessee River watershed area. Around 1913, The Aluminum Company bought up all the stock from the other companies and combined them into the Tallassee Power Company.
The property the lodge was built on was founded as the town of Tapoco to help facilitate the building of hydroelectric projects. World War I started in Europe and there was a sharp increase in the demand for aluminum. The company decided that the time was perfect to proceed with their plan to construct a dam and powerhouse at the place where the Little Tennessee River narrowed going through a steep gorge.
Construction was started in early 1916. Tapoco was first called Cheoah, but the name was changed because there was another area in Robbinsville already called Cheoah and it would have caused confusion. A contest was held to find a new name for the area with a prize of $25.00 offered. The winning name of Tapoco won. The name was comprised of the first two letters of each word from the Tallassee Power Company: Ta-Po-Co.
The only thing on the Lodge property at the beginning of construction in early 1916 was a survey camp. The population of Tapoco grew to around 2,000 by 1919. There were 280 sleeping units, twelve by sixteen square feet, to house workers. A mess hall, a hospital, theater, commissary and school were all constructed on the west bank of the Little Tennessee River according to Mr. S.C. Rogers, quoted in historical documents.
A remarkable dam was constructed that began operation on April 6, 1919. The Dam and the surrounding area held several world records for its time: the 225 ft. dam was the highest overflow dam, the turbines were the largest (with some Aluminum Company ones on the Yadkin River), the 150,000 volt transmission line was the highest voltage and had the longest span for a transmission line, 5010 feet, all the way across the river three miles below the Cheoah Dam.