The Telos Cut and Lock Dam

ChamberlainAreaMap copy

Map of Chamberlain Lake area. Telos is at bottom right.

In the Oct. issue of Insight, we featured the Eagle Lake Tramway, a great feat of northern entrepreneurial engineering that connected two great river systems, the St. John and the Penobscot, to move logs from the deep interior of Maine to market via river systems. Today, the tramway remnants are a curiosity to wayside travelers.

Member Paul Johnson wrote in to clarify a mention of what is popularly known as The Telos Cut. In the tramway story, it was noted that “as early as 1840 a lock dam had been built at the Telos Cut in the St. John and a canal dug from there to Webster Lake, which emptied into the East Branch of the Penobscot.”

Johnson writes that, in 1841, a dam was constructed on the natural outlet of Chamberlain Lake through which water flowed down to Big Eagle Lake, from there to Churchill Lake, and then on down the Allagash River to the St. John River.

Chamberlain Dam, as it was called, diverted the upper reaches of the Allagash River drainage into the East Branch of the Penobscot River drainage through a ravine at the east end of Telos Lake, which became the new outlet of Chamberlain Lake.


Telos Cut copy

An early aerial view shows the Telos Dam and Cutoff between Webster and Telos Lakes.

At the same time, another dam, Telos Dam, was constructed just a short distance from the east end of Telos Lake, at the head of the ravine that led down into Webster Lake. A canal, known as the Telos Cut, was dug upstream from the Telos Dam to increase the amount of water that could flow through the dam to facilitate the passage of long logs down the Penobscot on their way to Bangor. Writer Lew Dietz in The Allagash provides a detailed account of how the Telos Cut came to be and the “war” that ensued over its use.

In 1847, a third dam was constructed on the original outlet of Chamberlain Lake, about a quarter of a mile downstream from Chamberlain Dam. That year, yet another dam constructed on the outlet of Churchill Lake backed water up into the area behind the new dam below Chamberlain. Logs harvested from the area around Big Eagle and Churchill lakes were towed to the area behind the new dam, which acted like a lock when its gates were closed. The rise of water behind this Lock Dam allowed the logs to be floated into Chamberlain Lake, and from there down to Bangor.

This Lock Dam operated for a number of years before it ceased functioning. In 1857, writer Henry David Thoreau reported a dam below Chamberlain Dam, but in 1881, Lucius L. Hubbard observed “The second or lower dam is now in ruins”. Today, what was once called Chamberlain Dam is now referred to as Lock Dam, though, in reality, it is not the real one. The vestiges of the real Lock Dam are still evident between Chamberlain and Big Eagle lakes.