Hartwell Lake and Dam is the second Corps of Engineers project to be built in the Savannah River Basin. The first, J. Strom Thurmond Lake and Dam, was completed in 1952. A third project, Richard B. Russell Lake and Dam was completed in 1985. Congress authorized Hartwell in 1950 and construction began in October 1955. The project was completed in 1963 at a cost of more than $89 million.
Hartwell Dam is constructed of concrete and earth and spans some 18,000 feet (over 3 miles), crossing the Savannah River. The concrete section is 1,900 feet long and rises 204' above the riverbed at its highest point. Earthen embankments and dikes lengthen the dam at both ends. The spillway contains 12 large gates, each 40 feet by 35.5 feet high, for the quick release of water from the lake.