Part­ing the Wa­ters

A his­tory of Gar­land County lakes

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Culture - By El­iz­a­beth Rob­bins, pho­tog­ra­phy cour­tesy of the Gar­land County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety

The cre­ation of our lakes started with the dream of a for­mer Oua­chita River steam­boat pi­lot Flave Car­pen­ter. Af­ter his pi­lot days, Car­pen­ter be­came a deputy U.S. mar­shal. Search­ing on horse­back for moon­shin­ers through the Oua­chita Moun­tains in the late 1800s, he spot­ted two places that he thought would be per­fect for dams that could con­trol floods and im­prove nav­i­ga­tion on the up­per Oua­chita River. He didn't have the money to pur­sue his dream, but in 1916 he in­ter­ested Har­vey Couch — who had founded Arkansas Power and Light Co. in 1913 — in his vi­sion. Couch, in­trigued by the hy­dro­elec­tric po­ten­tial of dams on the Oua­chita, fol­lowed Flave on horse­back and on foot to see the lo­ca­tions. He was sold.

At the first lo­ca­tion, Rem­mel Dam — at what is now Jones Mills — was com­pleted in 1924 for $2,142,000. The first hy­dro­elec­tric plant in Arkan- sas, Rem­mel Dam formed Lake Cather­ine. Named for Couch's daugh­ter, the 11-mile-long lake cov­ers 2,000 acres. The dam (65 feet tall, 900 feet long, gen­er­at­ing 9.3 megawatts) was named for Har­mon Rem­mel, who helped get fed­eral ap­proval for the pro­ject. The dam helped make AP&L, later En­tergy, a ma­jor util­ity cor­po­ra­tion.

In 1932, Couch con­structed Car­pen­ter Dam for $6.5 mil­lion at Flave's se­cond choice of lo­ca­tion, 10 miles up­stream from Rem­mel Dam. Named for Flave, the dam im­pounds the 7,200-acre Lake Hamil­ton — named for C. Hamil­ton Moses, Couch's lawyer. The dam (115 feet tall, 1,165 feet long, gen­er­at­ing 56 megawatts) used 156,000 cu­bic yards of con­crete. Along with Rem­mel Dam, Car­pen­ter Dam helped AP&L, and many of its cus­tomers, sur­vive the Great De­pres­sion.

Couch had long dreamed of build­ing a third dam. Start­ing in the 1920s, AP&L be­gan buy­ing

thou­sands of acres in the pro­jected reser­voir vicin­ity 10 miles northwest of Hot Springs, and area res­i­dents be­gan mov­ing out. In 1938, AP&L and the fed­eral govern­ment an­nounced they would jointly build Blakely Moun­tain Dam, which would pro­vide hy­dro­elec­tric power and bet­ter flood con­trol, but in 1939 the fed­eral govern­ment as­sumed sole con­trol of the pro­ject. Built by the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers, the dam por­tion, pro­vid­ing flood con­trol, was com­plete by 1952, and the power plant went on­line in 1955.

The $31 mil­lion dam (231 feet tall, 1,100 feet long, gen­er­at­ing 75 megawatts) cre­ated Lake Oua­chita, the largest lake lo­cated en­tirely in Arkansas. Ex­tend­ing 34 miles up­stream and cov­er­ing more than 48,000 acres, the lake is sur­rounded by the Oua­chita Na­tional For­est.

The lake in­un­dated a once-pop­u­lated area. Graves from 16 ceme­ter­ies had to be moved. Homes, schools, churches, farms, busi­nesses, en­tire towns — like Buckville and Cedar Glades — dis­ap­peared. But the lakes cre­ated by Blakely and the other dams have been a boon to Gar­land County.

In the past, our econ­omy was tied to the ther­mal bathing in­dus­try, which nose-dived af­ter 1946, and the il­le­gal gam­bling in­dus­try, which ended in 1967. Di­verse at­trac­tions bring many peo­ple — 2,602,733 in 2013 — here now, but the lakes are a huge part of why they come to Gar­land County.

And it all started with Flave Car­pen­ter, a horse, and moon­shin­ers in the Oua­chi­tas.

Blakely Moun­tain Dam, 1950s.

At top left, a sail­boat cruises Lake Hamil­ton at sun­set. At right, con­struc­tion pro­gresses on the Blakely Moun­tain Dam power plant, 1953. At bot­tom, con­struc­tion on the Rem­mel Dam in the early 1920s.

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