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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Mississippi River Dam
Near Royalton, MN

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station

• Location: River Mile 956.5
• County: Morrison
• Structure Type: Concrete Structure
• Structure Width: 750 Feet Main Structure, 2400 Foot Embankment
• River Elevation (Pool): 1,082 Feet
• River Elevation (Outflow): 1,036 Feet
• Water Fall: 46 Feet
• Date Opened: 1925
The Blanchard Dam is one of the taller dams on the Mississippi River, rivaled only by the Ford Dam, Upper St Anthony Falls Dam, and the Keokuk Power Dam. The water action looks impressive in these spring high water level photos. During much of the year, the gates on the dam are closed, and the only water that exits the structure does so by flowing through the power house. As a result, fishermen are able to walk across the bottom of the falls, using the concrete outcropping as a fishing platform. Note that walking on the apron is extremely dangerous because the dam is subject to being opened at any time. Minnesota Power has installed a warning horn on the dam to alert sport fisherman that the dam will be opening.

The power plant at the Blanchard Dam produces 18-megawatts of electricity. The facility is operated by remote control from a control center located at the Thomson Dam near Duluth, Minnesota. The Little Falls Dam is also operated from this same control center.

Most people are familiar with Pike's Peak in Colorado, named after Zebulon Pike. What is lesser known is that Pike, an Army Lieutenant, lead an 1805 expedition to find the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Along the way, Pike ran into winter near Little Falls. His expedition established a small fort and stayed the winter. That location was flooded out when the Blanchard Dam was erected in 1925. Just before the fort site was flooded, a marker was placed so it could be found again in the future. As it happens, the Blanchard Dam was drained in 1984 for repairs. While the water level was low, historians were able to locate the site of the fort and do a new excavation. The walls and buildings were mapped out and documented before the dam repairs were finished. The dam was unexpectedly drained again in 1985 for pipeline work. Historians were able to do additional excavation, this time, finding a musket from the 1805 expedition.

The photo above is a view of the dam and power house during the spring high water season. The sound and spray of the water surging through the dam is incredible. The photo below is an overview of the dam site as seen from the Soo Line Trail bridge. The bridge was not yet open to the public when these spring photos were taken, but was open when the summer photos below were shot. The Soo Line Trail bridge is located just below the Blanchard Dam and features spectacular views of the structure.


Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
The photo above is an early spring view of the upriver side of the dam control structure. The photo below is a view looking east down the length of the control structure from the west side of the river.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
The photo above is the control structure that regulates the height of the reservoir behind the dam. The photo below is a view of the upriver side of the control structure.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
This photo, and the nineteen that follow, are views from early April, 2011, during the spring runoff. The photo above is looking north from the east bank of the river towards the downstream face of the Blanchard dam. The photo below is a close view of the dam control structure. The Soo Line Trail Bridge, located just downstream of the Blanchard Dam, offers a great vantage point to watch the dam in operation.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
These two photos are views from under the east end of the Soo Line Trail Bridge. The photo above is several of the dam gates on the main control structure. The photo below is the power house. Since more water was flowing through the dam gates than was flowing through the power house, water currents were actually flowing into the powerplant outflow channels. This is an example of the unexpected and dangerous currents that can develop near a dam.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
These two photos, and the seven that follow, are views of the dam as seen from the deck of the Soo Line Trail Bridge. The photo above is the west end of the main dam control structure. The photo below shows the first two dam gates, which are choked with ice that accumulated from small leaks in the dam gates.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
These two photos are views of the center dam gates. Three gates are open, and two more are leaking a noticeable amount of water. Of the three open gates, the gate on the left is open the furthest, while the two on the right are connected to remotely controlled winches. These winches can raise and lower the dam gates to fine-tune the water flow volume.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
The photo above is the gate closest to the power house. A small leak in the gate has lead to ice accumulating on the face of the dam. This ice is blocking the leak, causing the water to spray up into the air, creating a large rooster-tail. The photo below is the downstream side of the power house.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
The photo above is looking to the northwest towards the dam control structure. All eight movable gates are visible in this view. The photo below shows the white mechanical and control building located to the east of the power house. The large metal structure is a traveling crane. It can move back and forth over the power house. It can hoist equipment into and out of the power house through access doors in the roof of the building.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
The photo above is the electrical substation located to the east of the power house. These transformers combine the output from the generators and step up the voltage to a level where it can be efficiently carried by transmission lines. The tower that extends off the top of the photo supports a microwave dish. The dish is pointed towards the northeast, presumably to link the dam with the control center at the Thomson Hydro Project. The photo below is the sign posted at the access road leading to the east end of the dam.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
The photo above is looking west down the front side of the dam embankment. The photo below is the access road leading to the west side of the dam, which also serves as the embankment on the west end of the structure.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
The photo above is looking east along the upriver side of the dam. Unlike the summer photo above, the pool behind the dam is still covered with winter ice. The photo below is looking east along the top of the dam.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
Blanchard Hydro Electric Station
The photo above is looking along the downriver front side of the dam from the top of the structure. It is approximately 55 feet down to the water level from the top of the dam. The signs warn people to not climb out onto the apron in front of the gates. The photo below is looking east along the dam structure from the west end of the apron.

Blanchard Hydro Electric Station

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