Jan 152018
 

Harnessing the power of moving water for profit and community betterment has been an impulse for many an entrepreneur. On the White River, the first dam to close the flow was #Powersite, a small, almost run-of-the-river, dam that held back enough water to ‘fatten up’ the river without drastically affecting the flow or habitat.

Financial overruns caused the initial backers to withdraw their support for building Powersite. Enter New York banker Henry #Doherty who was ‘collecting’ small power companies in southwest Missouri and consolidating them into what became Empire District Electric. He financed the construction of Powersite.

The dam closed in 1913 but White River waters remained warm allowing for fishing and swimming and water sports. The newly formed riverine lake was called #Taneycomo – some said it was a nod to beautiful Lake Como in northern Italy, but the accepted explanation is a mash up of Taney County Missouri. More than forty years later a much bigger dam, Table Rock, was built upstream bringing drastic changes to the #WhiteRiver, Lake Taneycomo and the James Fork of the White.

Like Bagnell Dam, Powersite Dam was started by men who soon encountered financial difficulties and sold out to bigger concerns. The St. Louis investors who organized the Ozark Power and Water Company engaged the Ambursen Hydraulic Construction Company of Boston to build it. Nils Ambursen, a Norwegian immigrant engineer, had designed a hollow cement slab and buttress structure used successfully elsewhere. Replacing the original backers was Wall Street accumulator of energy companies, Henry Latham Doherty. Doherty had already acquired a handful of small utility companies in southwest Missouri that were branded Empire District Electric Company. The White River operation kept its original name until being folded into the Empire group in 1927.

Cutline for this 1933 press photo reads “Col. And Mrs. Doherty watched happily a Christmas party which the Dohertys gave at Coral FLA.”

The next year Doherty organized the National Committee for Birthday Balls, which sponsored dances across the country to raise money for Franklin Roosevelt’s Warm Springs Foundation to treat victims of polio. The president had been paralyzed from the waist down himself with the disease since 1921.

Henry L. Doherty built his holding company Cities Service into a gigantic combination of all three sources of energy–gas, oil, and electricity. His charm and friendship with FDR kept him from many of the problems capitalists had during the New Deal.

From James Fork of the White: Transformation of an Ozark River

Oct 102017
 

 Photo from Table Rock Bluff, 1940s.  Still no dam.

Soon after the completion of Powersite Dam (1913) creating Lake Taneycomo, Empire District Electric announced that they would build a larger dam more than twenty miles upstream at Table Rock. However, Table Rock Dam was not built at Table Rock, but about two miles farther upstream on the White River. It was not built by Empire District Electric, but by the Army Corps of Engineers, at a site Corps engineers thought would be better from an engineering standpoint.
The federal government ultimately took dam building away from private companies in the late 1930s. World War II and then Korea delayed construction of many projects. Again, local dam advocates became nervous that the feds would repeat the stalling tactics of Empire District Electric. Construction finally kicked off in the early 1950s.
Sep 162017
 
Hollister flood, 1943
 
The major Corps of Engineers dam-building era was a combination of dubious hydrologic theory propelled by the desire to create jobs during the Depression. Because our ancestors had foolishly developed the floodplains, there was much community support for flood control dams.
Springfield lawyer and land speculator William H. Johnson started building a Tudor-style complex by the train station in 1909 to accommodate tourists. As the faux half-timbered buildings were in the floodplain they were periodically immersed when Lake Taneycomo overflowed.
 
Table Rock Dam has kept the historic district, as it is now called, dry. Still some Hollister and Branson properties have suffered flooding, necessitating government buyouts. Believing the dam would afford complete protection, some people built even closer to the river, ignoring the Corps’ warning.
Apr 182017
 

We’re moving our Lens & Pen Press blog from Blogger to Word Press and will consolidate the two current blogs into one for our books–the Beautiful and Enduring Ozarks, the James Fork of the White (coming 2017), Damming the Osage, Mystery of the Irish Wilderness and See the Ozarks–and many other favorite topics of discussion. The archive of L&P posts is still available at http://lensandpen.blogspot.com/ The posts on our separate Damming the Osage website remain available at http://www.dammingtheosage.com/the-blog/

To bridge this move from one platform to another, below is the most recent (Blogger) post about Table Rock and the pre-dam White River landscape:

TABLE ROCK – BLUFF AND DAM

Shortly after Empire District Electric built Powersite Dam across the White River, creating Lake Taneycomo, the big electric company announced plans to build a 200-foot dam upriver at Table Rock Bluff.

Table Rock Dam will be built across the big sandbar,” reads the handwritten caption.
Real photo postcard, 1920s, by Payne Johnson, Branson, Mo.

Most bluffs along Ozark rivers are named. Table Rock Bluff had a relatively flat top and was accessible by road. A visit to this overlook was on many vacationers’ itinerary.  For decades locals anticipated seeing machinery in the valley below building a huge dam.  That this never occurred frustrated dam supporters and led them to question if the utility really intended to proceed. They didn’t.

The Army Corps would build Table Rock Dam many years later but the Corps didn’t build it at Table Rock. They moved the location two miles upstream to a more stable geological site, but kept the name.  Table Rock Bluff remains a popular scenic overlook, but is now fenced for safety – unlike the past as shown here.



COMING IN 2017: JAMES FORK OF THE WHITE: Transformation of an Ozark River.

Sample pages from this new book can be seen at www.beautifulozarks.com

Our earlier ‘river book,’ DAMMING THE OSAGE, can be seen at www.dammingtheosage.com