The Raceway and Earlier Uses of the Site
This raceway brought water from the James River and Kanawha Canal to power waterwheels, and later turbines, that drove machinery. During its earliest use, the raceway contained at least two overshot waterwheels that powered a corn mill, a cotton mill, and a flour mill. The stone base of the Pattern Building probably dates from the earliest structures.
The tubes or penstocks you see here, carry water into the round metal casings that hold turbines.This system had 22 feet of head, the distance between the forebay, or holding tank above the turbine, and the tailrace, which carried the water from the turbine toward the river.
This graphic shows how many buildings these tubines powered through 1935. We have rebuilt the shafts and gears coming from the turbines to suggest the complexity of the system. Note that turbine #5 powered machines in the foundry, which meant that a long shaft had to run right through the Pattern Building to transmit the power!
From the raceway, turbines transmitted power widely, through thousands of feet of shafts, gears, pulleys, and leather belt, to machinery.
Typically, one or two turbines would be used to power machinery in a single factory. Because of the adaptive reuse of this site for various industrial purposes over 150 years, the system you see here is more complex.
The Tredegar Iron Works began using this raceway during the Civil War. The company installed turbines to power individual buildings or sets of machines as needed. What evolved was a set of turbines that were connected to at least five other buildings, some hundreds of feet away.
Turbines are identified by their maker and by their design, which is associated with the inventor's name. We have listed makers and identifying information below for each turbine, including the diameter of the runner that spins inside the casing (40", 18", etc.), the horsepower generated at full power, how fast the runner can turn, and when the turbine was installed.
1. 40" Bodine Vertical Shaft 104.65 horsepower, 69 revolutions per minute, installed 1897-8
2. 36" Burham Vertical Shaft 76.21 horsepower, 158 rpm installed 1871.
3. 18" McCormick Horizontal Shaft, 58.7 hp, 302rpm, installed 1910.
4. 24" Smith Horizontal Shaft, 139.6hp, 325rpm, installed 1907.
5. 36" Burham Vertical Shaft, 114.3hp, 159 rpm, installed 1920.