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New Historical Photo Exhibit Depicts St. Lawrence-FDR Project Construction

Jill Murman Payne

May 3, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                  

MASSENA—As part of its 75th-anniversary commemoration, the New York Power Authority has mounted a display of historical photographs taken during construction of NYPA’s first generating facility, known today as the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project. The pictures are on display in NYPA’s admission-free Hawkins Point Visitors Center.

The framed 20-by-24-inch photos depict various views and angles of the hydropower project during construction, which began in 1954 and ended in 1959. Stored away for the last half-century, the photos have aged gracefully, and now show off a natural sepia tint that gives these industrial images an artistic quality that belies their functionality. 

The photos were taken by Al Mellett, an engineer employed by the project’s chief contractor, Uhl, Hall and Rich, to illustrate monthly progress reports for then-Power Authority Chairman Robert Moses. A 1937 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mellett, now 95, was originally hired as a surveyor. However, his skill with a large-format Speedgraphic camera quickly earned him the job of project photographer. In March 1959, National Geographic Magazine published some of Mellett’s photos in an article on the new St. Lawrence Seaway and the adjacent hydroelectric installation, which was constructed through a cooperative effort between the United States and Canada that resulted in the Robert Moses-Robert H. Saunders Power Dam and other project features. 

“It was the biggest project in the United States at the time,” Mellett recalled recently. “I set up a photo lab in Massena and had three people working in the darkroom. We turned out a lot of photographs. When Robert Moses came up to Massena, he told me that he learned more from looking at my photographs than from his visits to the project.” 

Shortly after the St. Lawrence project dedication in June 1959, Mellett moved to Turkey, where he helped build, and photograph, a hydropower station and transmission line project. He remained overseas for several years, traveling around the Middle East and Africa, continuing to sell his photos to the National Geographic Society.

Eventually, Mellett returned to his hometown of Wakefield, Mass., and opened a photography studio. He donated his St. Lawrence construction photos to the Power Authority before moving to a nearby retirement community where he now resides. NYPA selected 21 of Mellett’s photos for its exhibit, which opened almost 75 years from the date Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation creating the Power Authority, on April 27, 1931. To learn more about NYPA history, or the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project, visit www.nypa.gov.

Note to Editors:  A recent photo of Al Mellett is available in electronic format.  Please contact Jill Murman Payne, 914-390-8192.

   About NYPA:

■    NYPA uses no tax money or state credit.  It finances its operations through the sale of bonds and revenues earned in large part through sales of electricity.  ■    NYPA is a leader in promoting energy-efficiency, new energy technologies and electric transportation initiatives.  ■    It is the nation’s largest state-owned electric utility, with 18 generating plants in various parts of the state and more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines

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