Richard Wasserman
Community Uprooted: Eminent Domain in the U.S.
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Lake Buchanan, about an hours drive northwest of Austin, was created in 1937 when a hydroelectric dam was constructed on the Colorado River about 8 miles south of Bluffton, Texas. The lake filled and the town was covered by as much as 100 feet of water. Bluffton since its founding in the l850s had survived floods, droughts, and fire, but finally succumbed to the rising of Lake Buchanan.


I don’t have space here to write a detailed history of Bluffton, but it reads like a Western movie, complete with cowboys and Indians, outlaws, and dramatic weather. Bluffton was always a very small town, with a population of about 50 people (enough for a popular baseball team), in the town proper, although it served a wide area of farms and ranches. When it was flooded, it consisted of a general store/gas station, post office, 2-room schoolhouse, cotton gin, small hotel, a few homes, and a cemetery.


Around 2010 Texas had been suffering a record-breaking drought with many, many consecutive days reaching over 100 degrees with. With no relief in sight, residents have watched lawns, trees, and shrubs wither and die, and the water level of Lake Buchanan plummet. The problem was compounded by water being diverted from the lake and sold to rice farmers in southern Texas. In an effort to preserve the lake that practice was halted.


When I photographed, the lake level was almost 30 feet below normal. As the lake receded, the remains of the inundated town of Old Bluffton reappeared. There was not much to see—piles of bricks, chunks of concrete, acres of weeds and sand, and a great many tree stumps. Without an interpreter, it would have been vevirtually impossible to identify what these things represented.


I was very grateful to have had local historian Alfred Hallmark, and his indispensable 4-wheel drive truck, as my guide to show me the ruins of the old town. He has identified the remains of most of the structures as well as put together a detailed plat of the cemetery. His family history is closely intertwined with the history of Bluffton—his great-great-great grandfather was one of its founders— and he has spent years documenting them both.


Today’s Bluffton is home to about 200 residents, along with a gas station/convenience store and post office.