Percy Priest Lake is the largest and closest lake to my house in Hermitage, TN and as such, makes for an excellent place to explore via canoe when the weather is perfect and the wind is just right. The lake provides us landlocked folks an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and the quiet solace of the tides lend themselves to leisure. Most people, myself included, likely take the lake for granted, simply enjoying the cool, inviting waters on a nice summer day without much thought, but just like Nashville Shores (I used to lifeguard there in 2003) it is a more recent phenomenon.
The lake was formed after the completion of J. Percy Priest Dam in 1967 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The name of the dam project and the reservoir was originally the “Stewarts Ferry Reservoir” but was later changed by an 1958 act of Congress to its current name. Nothing against Congressman Percy Priest (I never knew the guy) but I wish the lake had retained its original name since it payed homage to the regional history better than the current name. Stewarts Ferry, as I’ll show later in pictures was in most recent times (pre-1967) a cable ferry across the Stones River. Before the invention of a cable system, it was likely a boat ferry, although the latter is purely speculation on my part as it is rather difficult to find information on the subject.
Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flooded the low lying farmland to create the lake, several of the present-day disconnected sections of roads, most notably: Old Hickory Blvd, Stewarts Ferry Pike, Smith Springs Rd, Lavergne-Couchville Pike, and Bakers Grove Rd, all ran through the network of farming communities. This is quite easy to see using the “Satellite” view on Google Maps.
Flash forward to the perfect day that was yesterday and bearing in mind the aforementioned information, I set out from the Nashville Shores Marina in the “Big Blue Beast,” aka my dad’s 17′ Blue Hole whitewater canoe, with the intent of finding the “lost” sections of Old Hickory Blvd (OHB) and Stewarts Ferry Pike (SFP). And for those who are wondering where the canoe’s name came from, if you’ve ever tried to tandemly maneuver a 17′ canoe in whitewater (that just so happens to be blue), its analogous to a semi-truck merging across 4 lanes of traffic: a beast of a thing to do! After 2 km of paddling around the Nashville Shores peninsula I arrived at the sunken section of OHB, which is quite easy to miss from a distance unless you know what to look for!
Continuing south for 0.5 km around the shoreline I came upon another section of OHB, this one quite large and above the waterline! After landing the canoe on the shoreline, I got out to walk the old road and explore the area! From the beer bottles and other bits of trash it appears that those people with faster modes of nautical transportation have frequently been here. But no matter, it was still good fun exploring and shooting photos of the area! I even came across what appears to be a bald cypress tree! I was quite surprised to find one in the lake as they’re normally found in swamplands and other wetland areas.
NOTE: From here OHB continues to the Cook Public Use Area, a local park and boat launch ramp. The area is quite lovely, especially now with the flowing trees, and has plenty of picnic areas and pavilions for outdoor entertaining.
After packing my things, the Big Blue Beast and I continued for another 8 km to what I’ve named “Stewarts Ferry Island” since this section of SFP is normally encircled with water during higher water levels. Upon arrival it is immediately apparent that this used to be the cable ferry crossing station. I’m glad that vandals or others interested in sign memorabilia haven’t torn down the signs and removed some of the last remaining historical elements of this pre-lake history! Although my pictures don’t show it, the area does have several places to camp. The cable crossing sign and some building foundations are all that remain of this once important river crossing point.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints (I had to make a birthday dinner) I wasn’t able to continue to the last remaining lake-section of SFP, which is another 20-30 minutes of paddling east. I will save that for another day. After taking the above photo, I returned to the canoe and the Big Blue Beast and I set off for the Nashville Shores Marina. All in all, I paddled 18.2 km and had plenty of adventure to show for it! Its amazing what can happen when a persons says “I wonder…..” and then follows it up with action!