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

Nov 102017
 
 
Congressman Dewey Short and unidentified colleagues looking at potential White River dam site in 1941.
On the back of this Townsend Godsey photograph is written, “Table Rock Dam site 9-14-41”
 
Dewey appears to be pointing out the location where the long-delayed dam would be built. Only a month earlier President Franklin Roosevelt had signed the Flood Control Act of 1941, which authorized civil engineering projects such as dams, levees, dikes, and other flood control measures and which included both Table Rock and Bull Shoals dam projects. Headline of the October 11, 1952 Kansas City Times announced: “Start A Big Dam Barbecue And Music At Launching of 76-Million-Dollar Reservoir.” Mayor Claude Binkley of Branson remarked he had ‘hurried to the Ozarks twenty-six years ago’ to be here for the construction start.”
 
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.
Aug 092017
 
Although there are no big government dams on the James River, Table Rock Dam backs the lower James up almost to Galena. So we covered the genesis of the Table Rock project in our new book, James Fork of the White. There’s no denying that the White River is prone to flooding.  The Army Corps of Engineers originally had no faith that dams were a solution to overflows. That would change and much of the White River has been incorporated into a system of multipurpose dams.
Press photo of Forsythe in the 1927 flood taken from Shadow Rock
Rising in the Boston Mountains and flowing through a narrow valley, the White River would rise quickly and put buildings on low ground underwater. The Corps of Engineers’ solution protected most of Branson and Hollister from flooding but permanently submerged most of the agricultural land along the upper White River. Valuable farmland hundreds of miles downstream was protected from normal rises.
 
As these government dams were premised on flood control (power generation was an option), local advocates like the White River Boosters Association cried out to Congress for relief from floods, supporting the Corps of Engineers’ claims.
 
Felicity to the new patron of dams required a revised chant from the Missouri business community. When Empire District Electric was considering building Table Rock Dam factory creation was the mantra. Local supporters really didn’t care who built the dam, or why. They just wanted a nice lake, a bigger Taneycomo, at no cost to them.
Sample pages from James Fork of the White can be seen on www.beautifulozarks.com. The book will be available by the end of September. Our earlier river book, Damming the Osage, can be at seen www.dammingtheosage.com)