Building Beaver Lake
What would Northwest Arkansas be like without Beaver Lake? Would we be as economically prosperous? Would we be able to support a large population? Would as many tourists visit? Probably not. The landscape and community of Northwest Arkansas changed with the coming of Beaver Lake.
Today many of us think of Beaver Lake as a water source and as a place to enjoy recreational activities, but its original purpose was for power generation and flood control.
Tremendous floods in the 1920s and 1930s prompted Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take action against future disasters.
Many areas across the nation were recommended for improvement, including the White River Basin. And so began the
struggle to secure the authority—and the funds—to build a series of reservoirs along the White River and its tributaries.
The White was a strong, clear river, home to big catfish and lined with huge walnut and cherry trees. Native Americans first benefited from the river, and later homesteaders settled along its banks, raising families, farming land, and operating businesses among the forested hills, limestone bluffs, and deep valleys. Much of this land came to be covered by the waters of Beaver Lake.
The lake's name comes from the town of Beaver in Carroll County, originally homesteaded by Wilson Beaver. At first the dam was to be built near Beaver, until it was determined that the area's geography and geology weren't suitable. Instead the dam was built six miles northwest of nearby Eureka Springs.
The Beaver Lake project cost over $43 million. The money was used to purchase property, relocate cemeteries, roads, and utility lines, clear the reservoir area, build the dam, powerhouse, and auxiliary embankment dams, and engineer and supervise the entire project. The contract for the dam was awarded to the T.L. James & Co. of Ruston, Louisiana, and the J.A. Jones Construction Co. of Charlotte, North Carolina, which together submitted a bid of $15.9 million.
The Corps of Engineers operates the five reservoirs that make up the integrated water resource system in the White River Basin: Beaver, Table Rock (in Missouri), and Bull Shoals (near Mountain Home) on the White River; Norfork on the North Fork River; and Greers Ferry (near Heber Springs) on the Little Red River.
The original purpose of the reservoir was for flood control and power generation. It was only later, around the time that the lake was built, that the lake's use as a municipal and industrial water supply and as a recreational resource began to take shape. The lake was one of the first in the nation to include these benefits as part of its mandated purpose.
Many of the images in this exhibit were donated by Thomas E. Petermann, project engineer in charge of building Beaver Dam and powerhouse. He also wrote a synopsis of the project that serves as an invaluable resource for historians.
To learn more about the big picture that Beaver Lake is a part of, take a look at these resources:
- Flood Control Act of 1944 (pdf document)
- Water Supply Act of 1958
- Recreational Act of 1965 (amended 2000) (pdf document)