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All that was lost under Lake Texoma: Woodville, Aylesworth, Achaeology, and more

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

Willis bridge
The Willis Bridge over Lake Texoma was completed twenty years after the dam, finally linking Marshall County to Texas.

Lake Texoma flooded the confluence of the Washita and Red Rivers, leaving archaeology and the towns of Aylesworth and Woodville, among others, beneath its waters.

When Sam Rayburn, U.S. Speaker of the House from Bonham (Fannin County, Texas), proposed the flood control project for the Red River at the Washita confluence in the 1930s, not everyone was on board (pun intended). The states of Louisiana and Texas saw this massive project, similar to the Tennessee River Valley Authority, as much-needed flood control. Oklahoma, however, was more ambivalent. Urban dwellers in Durant, Madill, and Ardmore viewed the proposed lake - initially simply titled "the Denison Dam Project" - as beneficial to the region's commerce. Farmers, oil well owners, and the residents of towns threatened with inundation considered the dam with much more trepidation.

Two Oklahoma towns, Aylesworth and Woodville, would be drowned by Lake Texoma. Willis would lose its ferry and not gain a bridge in that spot until 1960 (all three places are in Marshall County). Texas witnessed losses of Hagerman and Preston (both in Grayson County). And, ancient history was most likely lost as well. Archaeologists wrote in 1944 that the lands surrounding the Washita and Red Rivers are "highly significant to fill in important gaps... as to the relationships between southwestern and southeastern aboriginal civilization." Labeling this area as "an unusually strategic position in that aboriginal trade routes from east to west and north to south crossed there," archeologists in Texas named the central Red River Valley the "Henrietta Focus." While scholars pontificated that the Denison Dam site would be rife with material information, not many excavations were carried out except surface surveys that revealed potsherds, stone tools, trade beads, and evidence of burials... leaving still a "big gap" in knowledge about the original inhabitants in this region. And now, all that potential knowledge is covered in water.

Oklahoma Governor Leon C. "Red" Phillips threatened to sue to halt construction, reminding many observers of an attempt to recreate the National Guard stand-off about the construction of a free bridge in the summer of 1932. But, the courts ruled in favor of U.S. Congress, which has decided control over interstate commerce, and building on the dam commenced in 1940. Within four years, the Denison Dam was completed.

The impoundment of the Washita and Red Rivers created a massive lake onto which President Roosevelt officially bestowed the title of "Lake Texoma" in 1944. Lake Texoma proved to be THE definitive project of the Red River Valley, and Louisianans especially hoped that it would bring about further navigation improvements. That, however, has yet to happen.

So next time you're on a boat cruising the lake, on the shore fishing the lake, in a park hiking around the lake... and want to impress your friends, here's some pertinent info!

Where the dam's going to go (OHS).

Lake Texoma headline
Lake Texoma got its official name in October 1944.
The Woodville School - at least its foundation - now lies under Lake Texoma.
Woodsville, Oklahoma is no more, having been lost to the impoundment of the Red and Washita Rivers in 1944.
The Shreveport Times explains what will be lost or relocated due to the dam's construction.
The location of the dam and its potential flood plain, according to the Oklahoma News.

Another victim of Denison Dam was Aylesworth, Marshall County, Oklahoma.

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