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.
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
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
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.