From The Waters of the Brazos,
A History of the Brazos River Authority 1929-1979
by Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr.
~ Transcribed by Margaret McCleskey ~
Shortly after the collapse of the Six Dam Program in 1957, the [Brazos River] Authority began negotiations with Texas Power and Light [TP&L] hoping to find ways and means of financing at least one power, flood control and conservation project between Possum Kingdom and Whitney. These negotiations were based on the assumption that the Authority would build a facility similar to the one at Possum Kingdom and sell power to the company in order to pay for it. By early 1961 they had matured sufficiently to allow the Authority to announce publicly its intention to build a dam at the DeCordova Bend site near Granbury.
The area was named for Jacob de Cordova, an early Texas pioneer who explored it in the 1850’s. The bend is created by a twenty-seven mile loop in the Brazos which encloses 6,000 acres of fertile land planted entirely in pecans, peaches and other crops. The area is owned by the O.P. Leonard family of Fort Worth, who before the construction of the dam called it The Leonard Bend Farm. When completed the dam would not inundate the bend area but would back up the river, creating a reservoir which would lap at the very doorsteps of the town of Granbury, surrounding it on three sides.
Three hundred residents of Granbury and the Hood County area attended a Chamber of Commerce dinner on February 27, 1961, to hear a discussion of the project by representatives of the BRA [Brazos River Authority] whose featured spokesman was Walter Humphrey. Humphrey was at his best that night. “A dream which began thirty years ago is close to realization now,” he said. “But if there is to be a dam on the Brazos near Granbury, it’s going to take a lot of combined and determined effort from many people…I’m going to suggest…that you folks organize the most powerful backing you can…to speed the day when work on the dam can be started. He reminded his audience that the dam would not only provide an ensured water supply for the area, it would attract industry and tourism and virtually guarantee economic growth. “People from the cities might well move out here,” he told them, “into the beautifully wooded areas around the shorelines of what can be one of Texas’ most attractive lakes.” Humphrey concluded by reminding his listeners that the proposal was not a “Washington handout;” that the State of Texas, through the BRA, would build the dam without the use of any tax money. “It will pay for itself,” he told them, “and you can be proud of that when this lake is a reality.”
Many Granbury residents were enthused by the prospects of growth which Humphrey laid before them. Led by Mayor A.N. Norman, banker John Lutton, and insurance man Jack Worthem, they formed an action group called the DeCordova Bend Committee, and pledged their support and assistance to the BRA Board. Meanwhile, negotiations with Texas Power and Light went forward, and the Authority applied to the Housing and Home Finance Agency [HHFA] for funds to support advance planning. By the end of 1963 these intricate negotiations bore fruit. An agreement for the sale of power was reached with TP&L, and the HHFA approved a loan of $540,000 for advance planning and design. It appeared that the project would now go forward on schedule.
During this critical period Col. Walter J. Wells took over as General Manager of the Authority and soon hired another retired Corps officer, Col. Thomas B. Hunter, to assume the overall direction of the DeCordova Bend project. Wells and Hunter immediately encountered difficulties when numerous landowners in the vicinity of the proposed reservoir indicated they might demand more compensation than the Brazos men were prepared to pay. If this problem could not be resolved, the project would be delayed, or perhaps even killed.
During the summer of 1963 Wells began a campaign of pressure to hold land prices down. In meetings with landowners and business and professional men from the Granbury area he was direct and to the point. Land prices must remain at a reasonable level, he told them, or there would be no dam. Many of the local residents were prepared to help. They reorganized the DeCordova Bend Committee as the DeCordova Action Committee, this time with banker and landowner Henry Zweifel as chairman, and they vowed to assist the BRA in every possible way.
The pressure exerted by Wells and the DeCordova Action Committee saved the day and the Authority soon obtained letters of agreement from most of the landowners, thus minimizing a nettlesome problem. Although some difficulties persisted, it now appeared that the project could be completed with a minimum of delay. The Board resolved, in December, 1963, to proceed with all necessary action to bring it to the construction stage as soon as possible.
The first action required was to obtain the balance of the advance planning loan from the Housing and Home Finance Agency of the $540,000 awarded in 1962. The Authority had so far received and spent roughly $227,000 and now urgently needed the remainder. Wells requested payment in January, 1964, and the money was received in April. These funds allowed Ambursen to complete the design and planning for the project and in September BRA field crews began to survey the reservoir site. Meanwhile, the staff continued to discuss federal permit requirements with the FPC and other Federal agencies.
In early 1965 the Authority made a critical decision which brought the project much closer to the construction stage and simultaneously brought a substantial reduction in cost. They resolved to eliminate the hydroelectric plant from the project and finance it through the sale of water rather than power to Texas Power and Light. This move saved from $6 to $7 million, and eliminated the need for a federal license. During the next several months planning and surveying were completed and the process of land acquisition began. This was a complex matter which involved the purchase of 318 separate tracts, and individual negotiations with each owner. Tom Hunter, who orchestrated the program, was careful to negotiate cautiously and in the proper order, that is, in such a way as to minimize jealousy and holdouts. When it was finished, the Brazos men regarded the acquisition program as a great success. They paid form $100 to $600 per acre and were forced to carry out only a few condemnation proceedings. By the end of August, 1966, the Authority was ready to advertise for bids. A contract was let for $17 million to the H.B. Zachary Co. of San Antonio and construction officially began with a ground-breaking ceremony on December 15, 1966.
The inauguration of the project touched off a great land boom in the Granbury area as local and outside speculators rushed to buy land which would soon be on the shoreline of a beautiful lake. Seventeen acres near the city dump sold for $23,000 per acre. Businessmen also became excited at the prospects of development made possible by the lake. J.D. Rockwell opened a new restaurant on the square. It was the first of a whole series of projects that would soon transform that dreary area into one of the most delightful small town restorations in Texas. J.V. Durant, owner of a Chevrolet agency, was also excited, anticipating a rush of new population from Dallas and Fort Worth when the dam was completed, and he built a new facility. Many others followed suit.
The project was completed by early 1969 and received the formal name of DeCordova Bend Dam and Lake Granbury. The reservoir filled by the end of the year and on June 19, 1970, the entire facility was dedicated in ceremonies attended by Governor Preston Smith and several descendents of Jacob de Cordova. The dam is a concrete and earthen structure 2,220 feet long and eighty-two feet high and is the Ambursen massive buttress type similar to the one at Possum Kingdom. The lake covers 8.661 acres with a capacity of 155,000 acre-feet of water. It extends upriver some thirty-three miles and has a shoreline of approximately 103 miles. It is quite as beautiful as Walter Humphrey and others who envisioned it had predicted it would be.
Economically, the effects of the project on Granbury and Hood County have been astounding. The town was transformed virtually overnight from a sleepy backwater to a major tourist center. The population of Hood County increased from an estimated 5,400 in 1960 to more than 11,000 in 1976. Many new businesses ranging from trailer courts to shopping malls sprang up. The restoration of the town square was completed, and a number of real estate developments, including Pecan Plantation on the bend, and DeCordova Estates on the lake itself, were established and grew rapidly. Today, Granbury is one of the most attractive and thriving small towns in the state.
Shortly after the completion of the dam, Texas Power and Light announced plans to build a new power plant on the lake seven miles from Granbury. Construction began in 1972 and was finished in 1974. This unit, with a capacity of 775,000 kilowatts, feeds electric power into the company’s fifty-one county system helping to meet an ever-growing need. Also in 1974, Texas utilities began construction of the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant about five miles west of Lake Granbury. Scheduled for completion in 1981, the plant will have a generating capacity of 1.035 million kilowatts. It will feed power to the service areas of Dallas Power and Light, Texas Power and Light, and Texas Electric Service companies. Water from Lake Granbury will be used for cooling at the plant. When fully operational, it will receive more than 20,000 acre-feet per year transported from Lake Granbury to the plant through a five mile long, forty-eight inch pipeline. Though controversial, the Comanche Peak plant will serve a vital need and it represents the most advanced planning the power industry has to offer.
The Waters of the Brazos, A History of the Brazos River Authority 1929-1979 by Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr. © 1981 by Brazos River Authority. Waco, Texas: The Texian Press.