Located in Randolph County in eastern Alabama, the R.L. Harris Reservoir is the newest of Alabama Power’s man-made lakes. Despite its relative youth, Lake Harris not only has ties to a critical era and figure in Alabama Power history, but also has developed an idyllic small-town culture of its own.
Construction began on Crooked Creek of the Tallapoosa River in 1976; just over two years after the company secured the federal approval for the dam. In a testament to the man it was named for, Lake Harris overcame countless obstacles to be completed in 1983.
In a word, Rother L. Harris was impressive. Nicknamed “Judge” for an austere, intimidating demeanor, Harris “had a commanding presence magnified by a reputation for insisting on perfection,” according to Leah Rawls Atkins, author of the definitive history of Alabama Power. A 45-year employee and longtime vice president in charge of operations, Harris grew up with Alabama Power’s electrical grid, and his encyclopedic knowledge served as the company database before the word “database” even existed. With a namesake like that, it’s no wonder Lake Harris and its engineers persevered.
Despite Harris’ legacy, many locals still refer to the reservoir as Lake Wedowee, after the adjacent town. “Habits are hard to break, so it continues to be called Lake Wedowee,” said Tricia Stearns, a writer for Lake Wedowee Life, who has been around the lake for a decade. Stearns notes that if you want to sound like a local, you’ll pronounce the town’s name with a long “o”: We-DO-wee.
When asked what appeals to her most about the lake, Stearns said, “There is a fabric to Lake Wedowee that blends lake living and rural living like an old quilt you would find at your favorite grandmother’s house. [It’s] a clear, clean lake with lots of quiet threads off the main body of water where families can build homes and let their kids swim without being in the traffic of open water – and those same threads spin a yarn for some great fishing tales. … There is something for everyone: great areas for water skiing, quiet coves for fishing and peaceful porch- sitting.”
The community around Lake Harris isn’t a bustling metropolis, but Stearns says that the area’s tight-knit connections more than make up for it.
“The community is more than meets the eye when driving through the small cluster of businesses surrounding the county courthouse,” Stearns said. “Folks know their neighbors. They sit and visit with each other on screened porches, whether the view is of the lake or a pasture sprinkled with cows. Within the Wedowee community itself, you may have a farmer and a lake resident working together at the Cardboard Boat Races, cooking barbecue at a local church event or watching fireworks next to each other at the annual Fourth of July Rodeo.”
Lake Harris and the surrounding Wedowee community feels a bit like Alabama’s version of Mayberry. The Harris community is a slice of Alabama life with trucks driving down the quiet byways, serene fishing spots complete with a quaint small town offering fun spots to explore. It has a way of attracting people like Stearns who are looking for a simpler pace of life and a classic Southern town.