Hardy Hydroelectric Plant (Hardy Dam) is a dam and powerplant complex on the Muskegon River in Big Prairie Township, Newaygo County, Michigan. At the time of its completion, it was the largest earthen dam in North America east of the Mississippi, and is still the third largest earthen dam in the world and the largest east of the Mississippi River. Its impoundment forms a lake with over 50 miles of shoreline. The dam impounds a reservoir of 4,000 acres (1,618 ha) and is capable of producing 30,000 kilowatts of electricity.
After considerable investigation and planning, the Hardy was built in 1931 under the direction of Edward M. Burd, and is named for George E. Hardy, a financial partner with Anton Hodenpyl. Hardy and Hodenpyl (who also had a dam named after him) oversaw the Commonwealth and Southern holding company that Consumers Energy, was part of from 1910 through the 1920s. It used the semi hydraulic method of construction.
Hardy was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Dec. 1, 1997. The listing notes the Spanish Colonial architecture of the powerplant buildings, including the oil house, intake, dormitory and powerhouse.
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Constructed from 1929 to 1931, on a site once known as the Oxbow, the Hardy Hydroelectric Plant was built by Consumers Power Company. The plant was named for George Hardy, a partner in the firm that financed Consumers' projects from 1911 through 1928. The complex includes a Spanish Colonial Revival-style powerhouse and intake tower, an oil house, and a dormitory. It originally included four operator's houses on the eastern bank of the pond, which were Sears-Roebuck kit homes. Due to advancements in fossil fuel steam generating plants, this was the last conventional hydroelectric plant built by Consumers. The Hardy plant in listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Flowing water has long provided power to mines and mills. With advances in electricity in the 1880s, waterpower was soon used to generate electricity. The first public demonstration of hydroelectric power in the country occurred on July 24, 1880, when sixteen carbon arc street lamps lit up Grand Rapids using a belt driven dynamo (generator) powered by a water turbine at the Wolverine Chair Factory. Michigan's extensive water resources were harnessed to power electric generating equipment, first at existing dams and mills and later at sites built expressly for hydroelectric generation. The electricity from these plants provided power for homes and businesses and helped fuel Michigan's growth as one of the nation's premier industrial states.
National Register of Historical Places
Photo from Paul Petosky