Photo guide to Pennsylvania's Kinzua Lake Region
An Allegheny Almanac
Online Tour of the
Kinzua Dam and

About 6 miles east of
Warren, PA
on Kinzua Road
(Route 59)

Fishing in
the Kinzua Region
All about the Kinzua Dam  
Pronounced "kin-zoo," by local residents, and
kin-zew-uh" in the Seneca language, the Kinzua
Dam is one of the largest dams in the United
States east of the Mississippi River. Its
construction in the 1960's was controversial
because it forced the relocation of the entire town
of Kinzua and the departure of Pennsylvania's last
Native Americans, the Senecas, who now live
nearby on the northern shores of the flooded land
near Salamanca, New York. In addition to flood
control and power generation, it created
Pennsylvania's deepest inland body of water,
Kinzua Lake, the Allegheny Reservoir.

A lawsuit against breaking the oldest U.S. treaty
which guaranteed perpetual Seneca ownership of
the land had been argued by the Society of
Friends (Quakers) but it lost when the U.S.
Supreme Court decided not to review a lower
court finding in 1961.

The American country western singer, Johnny
Cash, wrote a song about the plight of the Seneca
Indians, whose leader, Chief Cornplanter, was a
significant figure in the French and Indian War
and the American Revolution and annexation of
Pennsylvania land to the U.S.

This was one of the first Native American rights
songs and pre-dated popular protest folk music of
the later 1960s.

Visit this link to to listen and watch Johnny
Cash sing it with June Carter and Pete Seeger

Authorized by the Flood Control Acts of 1936,  
1938, and 1941, actual construction was begun by
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1960 and
completed in 1965. Pittsburgh businessmen had
been lobbying Congress for this for decades prior
to its authorization.

As early as 1910 they had been lobbying for such
a project to protect the valley in which Pittsburgh
is located. The dam itself may be emblematic of a
maturing country in which the post-Civil War
industrial revolution catapulted our nation into
preeminence just after World War I. Incognizant of
the consequences, mineral and timber extraction
turned our area into the "Allegheny Brush Patch."
The entire area around Warren was denuded of its
trees with oil derricks taking their place.

Destruction of the watershed amplified any
flooding because the terrain could not sponge up
any water, channeling it into the river with dire
consequences here and particularly downstream.

The watershed destruction was so bad that in
1923 the U.S. Congress took over, establishing
the half-million acre Allegheny National Forest,
perhaps one of the greatest reclamation stories in
our history.

The main purpose of the dam is flood control on
the Allegheny and Ohio rivers. This dam controls
drainage on a watershed of 2180 square miles or
an area twice the size of the state of Rhode  
Island. Side benefits derived from the dam include
drought control, hydroelectric power production
and recreation.

The total cost of construction was approximately
$108 million. According to the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, Kinzua more than paid for itself in
1972 when tropical storm Agnes dumped
continual heavy rains on the watershed, bringing
the lake to within three feet of its maximum
storage capacity. Over $247 million in downstream
damages were prevented.

Engineering notes: Length of Dam 1,897 feet,  
Maximum Height of Dam 179 feet Earthfill, in
Cubic Yards 3,000,000 Concrete, in Cubic Yards
500,000 Penstocks, Diameter (Pipes Through
Dam) 19 feet.

The nearest city to the dam is Warren,
Pennsylvania. Situated six miles east of the city on
Route 59, it is open for public tours. The dam is
located within the half-million acre Allegheny
National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania. A
boat marina,  beach, and extensive hiking trails,
campgrounds, and vistas are located nearby. A
proposal to set aside some of this land as
wilderness in the 1990s was unsuccessful but did
create the Allegheny National Recreation Area,
comprising 23,000 acres which established the
use of the area for camping, fishing, boating,
hiking, canoeing and kayaking and other outdoor
nature activities.

Congressman William Clinger and U.S. Senators
Arlen Specter and John Heinz did succeed,
however, in creating an Allegheny Wilderness
Land, from several islands downstream, as well as
at Hearts Content and Hickory Creek, south of the
dam, and other small areas. Hearts Content
contains the last virgin forest in our part of the
world. It was set aside by its owners and has
become a
Registered Natural Landmark.

Today, lumbering and mineral extraction maintain
a preeminent position in our local and national
economies under management of the state and
federal governments. Significantly, the U.S.
Government has classified this region
uncommonly as "Rural Industrial" due to its role as
an industrial powerhouse in businesses related to
oil, plastics, steel, transportation, and even
apparel. It is truly a place where nature and
industry thrive side by side.

Many years ago, The Allegheny National Forest
estimated that there are more than a million visits
annually here by outdoor enthusiasts who come to
canoe, camp, hike, fish, hunt, boat, and bike.

Notes on pronunciation: Noted local radio host
LeRoy Schneck pronouced the dam's name as
"Kin-zew-a" as did legendary singer Johnny Cash.
article updated 2/13/17

Chris Lareau
Books about our Seneca Heritage
arranged at
Warren, Pennsylvania
© Allegheny Almanac. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2005-2018 by
AlleghenyAlmanac, unless otherwise noted. Reproduction or
re-use by any means, including publication, electronic dissemination, or for online access
in altered or partial form without the expressed permission of the editor is prohibited by
law. All contents are © and ©Allegheny Almanac unless
otherwise noted.