Thurlow dam was built as the site of an early 19th-century textile mill that was used during the Civil War as a uniform and ammunition plant. The dam was named in honor of Oscar. G. Thurlow, a chief engineer, vice president and director of Alabama Power Company.
In 1928, Thurlow was awarded the Howard N. Potts Medal by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia for his work in science and the mechanical arts. He invented the Thurlow Backwater Suppressor, which was first installed in Mitchell Dam on the Coosa River.