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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

TOLEDO BEND

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
Late in the 1960s I spent most weekends helping my father-in-law, B.L. Barrett, clear land on a subdivision he was developing on Toledo Bend Reservoir with partners Johnny Abston and a surveyor named Howard Montgomery. Though I knew little of the woods and less of surveying when we began, I learned a great deal about each in the process.

One thing I learned is that surveyors could find out where the waterline of the reservoir would be even before contractors began the dam, because that is what we surveyed it.


Toledo Bend Reservoir resulted from damming the Sabine River, since 1819 the border between Texas and Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico to the 32nd parallell. The reservoir occupies parts of Newton, Sabine, Panola, and Shelby counties in Texas and Sabine and DeSoto parishes in Louisiana. It was built and governed exclusively by the states of Louisiana and Texas, without federal funds, and both were almost embarrassingly proud of that fact.


Construction on the dam, which is located just above Burkeville in Newton County, began in 1964 and was completed in 1969, though impoundment of the water began in 1966 and I promise you that it chased many a snake up to where we were surveying and clearing before we ever saw the water. Electrical generation for use by coastal patrons is performed at the dam, and otherwise the lake hosts recreational fishing, boating, and swimming and helps prevent the devastating floods that formerly visited such cities as Orange down river.

An anecdote "floods" back, to make a bad pun, about the early days of the lake.

I remember Congressman Charlie Wilson inviting a former congressional colleague, Eddie Koch, then mayor of New York City, to a fundraiser in Lufkin. They came at a time when Koch desperately sought federal guarantees for loans to help his city through an expected but severe fiscal crisis. Charlie supported the loan guarantees but many of his constituents did not. Here's how Charlie made his point. He gave Koch a mariner's cap and told him he was making him an admiral in the Toledo Bend Brown Water Navy. "Eddie," said Charlie, "that lake was built without any money from Washington."

All Things Historical Dec. 28-Jan. 3, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.
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