Old Carbonton Dam – Sanford, North Carolina - Atlas Obscura

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Old Carbonton Dam

An eerily abandoned stone tower is all that remains of a demolished dam on Cape Fear River. 


Standing just feet from a wooden picnic table in a North Carolina park, a solitary concrete tower marks the former location of a large dam that threatened to damage the surrounding ecosystem. Now the eerie ruins are more scenic landmark than damaging natural blight.

Deep River had been dammed to some extent since the 1800s, but the modern Carbonton Dam was originally built in 1921. The long concrete dam stood on a curve in Deep River, a tributary of Cape Fear River. It was only 17 feet tall, but it stretched for over 200 feet, diverting the flow of the waters, and generating power to the local area in a tall powerhouse. The dam was in use until 2005, but over its decades of existence the water flowing through the system was coming out contaminated, damaging the local ecosystem downstream. It had impeded the local animals from traveling upstream as well. The power output at the site stopped in 2004, and between 2005-2006, the dam was demolished and the river returned to its original flow for the first time in almost a century. 

However, while the dam itself was torn down, the tall powerhouse was left standing like a memorial to the former dam. The area around it, formerly off limits while the dam was in operation, was turned into public park land.

The tower can be explored, but given that it is a slowly crumbling old structure, it can be somewhat treacherous. 

The ruins is solid concrete and the steps are rusty, but solid. There is little apparent danger of collapse, but the structure is home to several very large wasp nests. The graffiti and views from inside are strikingly beautiful, but this is no longer a human space, and it is important to be respectful of the current occupants. Two nests are in the fuse box on the top floor inside, directly beside the doorway. Visitors coming inside will walk very close before they see the nests. Stepping on anything not made of concrete or iron in the tower is inadvisable. Nonetheless, the ruins give the site a haunting beauty that makes the now protected nature stand out even more by contrast.  

Know Before You Go

From Sanford, take Carbonton road for a few miles until reaching the bridge spanning the Deep River, which straddles the Chatham/Moore county line. Before the actual bridge there is a dirt road turn-off into the parking area with picnic tables next to the dam. Please watch out if you decide to go into the water. There are leeches—quite a few of them, too.

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