Flashback: Residents along Sabine River cope differently with the coming of Toledo Bend Lake

Toledo Bend Dam
Construction of the Toledo Bend Dam, in the 1960s

There were so many stories to be told as construction of the Toledo Bend Dam got underway and residents living in the areas which would be soon inundated by Toledo Bend Reservoir prepared themselves for the inevitable.

I came across this interesting November 1963 article, written for the Associated Press by Normal Richardson of The Shreveport Times.

MANY, La (AP) An almost forgotten historic site near this west Louisiana town is on its death bed.

It will die slowly as it gives way to progress and surrenders to the waters of the giant Toledo Bend Reservoir.

The Sabine Breastworks, most extensive and best-preserved line of military breastworks on the Sabine River, will cease to exist by 1966.

A little further north, a 66-year-old woman has already moved out of the old home she has known for 48 years in the Sulphur Springs community.

Just across the river, ibn East Teas, the owner of a grocery store / service station– operated before him by his father nad grandfather since 1927– must face that fact that within four years, his store will be under water.

TOWN REBORN

A few miles away, however, there is a new murmor of life in old Sabinetown, now filled mostly with deserted homes standing ghostly against a backdrop of rapidly enclosing forestland.  Dormant since the early 1900s, the old town now faces a new rebirth with the planned relocation of strategic highways through the site.

Situations are different and opinions and outlooks vary along the twisting Sabine River where more than 200 families are being, or soon will be, asked to move within the next three years to make room for the mammoth Toledo Bend project.

A few of these families– some have never lived elsewhere– are bitter about having to leave their homes and land.

“I ain’t a’ wanting to move.. this is my home,” flatly states Willie Bison, who has spent 61 years in the Sulphur Springs community, one of several to be flooded when the reservoir begins flooding.

“The only way I’ll get out is to float out,” said an elderly farmer near Sabinetown.

And from Mrs. A. L. Harper in the same general area: “People around here figure on staying here… if they want the land, they’ll have take it.

“The land, I guess, is worth $50 an acre, but I’ll tell you something mister, you couldn’t buy it for $500 an acre this morning,” she said.

C. N. McGown, 62, has spent most of his life near the Sabine River in East Texas.   He operates a store that has been in his family since 1907.  He doesn’t like the idea of moving.

“You take a man my age… I’m not really able to work but I can do something like this.  I can’t make any money here, but I can live off what I take in.”  His store will be under 25 feet of water.

SOME WANT TO MOVE

Then there are many in the old communities and homes overlooking the river who have the same enthusiasm about new quarters as did Miss Sadie Paddie, 68.

“Well, I’m glad to move, and appreciate all my friends helping me,” she said, adding that she hopes all her neighbors will move close to her.

Miss Sadie, as she is known in Sulphur Springs, has been living in the old home she leased from a lumber company for 48 years.

Resettled in Zwolle, next door to her sister, Mrs. Mary McDonald, Miss Sadie has only one big problem.

“I can’t get used to this gas… I’m scared of it,” she said, pointing to the gas burning stove that replaced her wood-burning model.

John F. Foster, 78, wants to move from the Toro Community where he has lived for 54 years because he wants to be nearer to a doctor.  Many of the elderly feel the same way.  Some want to be near families, and a few just want to get away from the land which was once rich and fertile but now, for the most part, is completely uncultivated.

STAY ON LAKE

“We don’t know what we are going to do, but we’d like to stay on the lake,” said Robert Bison, whose home sits on a high embankment overlooking the river.

All have stories to tell, all have various reasons for wanting to stay or to go.

State Rep. Cliff Ammons of Sabine Parish, vice-chairman of the Louisiana Toledo Bend Authority– which has joined a similar group in Texas for work on the project, the sixth largest man-made body of water in the United States– said the authority has no responsibility in the community service to resettle persons who will be flooded out.

The Toledo Bend Dam, which will flood 181,500 acres along the river (NOTE: the dam ended up flooding approximately 186,000 acres of land), is expected to be completed by 1966.

The authority has already begun appraisals of land near the dam site and will work up river throughout the area to be inundated.

A survey is also being made of roads which will require elevation.  Ammons is also making his own surve of each home to get the number of residents and numnber of farm animals, and to learn where the people wish to move and how much they want.

Sabinetown is a different story.  It is expected to become one of the principle points of entry on the Texas-Louisiana border, but it won’t be the first time the river settlement has served as official greeter for travelers.

The old town was once an official port of entry with a p0pulation of some 2,000 persons.  Big steamboats unloaded there and took on cargo.

Sabinetown was the hone of the first Texas seated in Congress, David Kaufman.  It is also the site of earthworks thrown up to protect Texas from a threatened Yankee invasion in the Civil War.

The Yankees were defeated at Mansfield, however, and the battle at Sabinetown was never fought.

HEAVILY WOODED

The areas to be flooded by the dam and reservoir are heavily wooded and sparsely settled.  There are no towns and no major improvements on land to be flooded, but there are some farm homes, churches, small stores, a state highway, one section of the El Camino Real, 25 cemeteries, and several pipelines.

The lake itself will have 1,250 miles of shore lines.  Purposes of the project are water conservation, production of hydroelectricity, recreation facilities (Louisiana will have 14 recreational areas) and improvements of navigation on the river.

“We believe the recreational aspects of the lake will add to our local economy and will also make the area more attractive to industry, said Center, Texas Mayor George M. Smith.

In Logansport, G. H. McCasland, member of the authority, said “the possibilities of the Logansport area are unlimited.”

The market value of electric power produced at the Toledo Bend plant will be about $1.9 million annually and this figure is included in expected revenues.  Three utility companies will buy the power.

Most of the residents realize the importance of this project, others simply don’twant to move.  A few are vowing to stay, and there are those with a wait and see attitude.

But the majority feeling is probably summed up by 75-year-old Lee Felts, whose farm home– where he lived since 1919– is 15 feet from the planned shoreline of the lake:

“You know, sometimes a fellow does things he don’t like to do.”

 

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