Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Old Bluffton: A Ghost Town Rises from the Lake

Old Bluffton (from Texas Observer)

Greeting from Lake Buchanan, Texas! We are spending Christmas with Cindy’s parents, Jim and Maxine Heath of Buchanan Dam, Texas. Their house sits on the (sometime) shore of Lake Buchanan, formed when the Little Colorado River was dammed in the 1930s. I say “sometime shore” because the lake level has been down considerably for several years due to drought. Right now, the lake is 25-30 feet down, and the shore is a quarter mile or more below their yard. Previously, they could launch their sailboat directly from their property.

House foundation
The lowering lake level brought up the remains of the ghost town of Bluffton, submerged when the lake was formed. You have to travel nearly two miles on the old lakebed to reach the ruins. I made a brief attempt last February; I was dog-and-house-sitting for my in-laws while writing my current book. But the descent from the modern road to the lake-bed seemed too steep and difficult for my 2-wheel-drive Ford Ranger (my daughter April teases me about my wimpy truck-- she drives a big F-150). With Jim Heath’s four-wheel drive Chevy Suburban, however, it was not hard to get out to Old Bluffton. We were returning from visiting the Fall Creek Winery a few miles to the north (excellent Texas wines!).

Bluffton cemetery being moved before the flood
Bluffton was founded by the David family, who moved from Arkansas in 1883. The town burned down at one point and was rebuilt some distance to the south. Residents harvested pecans and grew corn and cotton. When construction began on the dam, the Lower Colorado River Authority bought up people's properties. Some residents moved to the new town of Bluffton nearby and others left the area. Engineers in 1937 calculated that it would take four years for the lake to fill in behind the new dam, but heavy rains shortened that time to a few months. All but one grave from the cemetery were moved prior to the flood.
House foundation

The ruins today are not very spectacular. I only had a short period to see the site and take a few photos. Visitors to the site seem to be aware they are not supposed to remove artifacts, and people have piled up broken glass, potsherds, and rusty iron objects on top of the cement and stone remains at the site.

Artifacts piled on a cement slab
Artifacts piled on a building stone


Not much is left of old Bluffton. The ruins are considerably sparser and in much poorer condition than the many old mining towns and other ghost towns that litter my state of Arizona. But the fact that we know something of the history of the town and the names of its residents gives this site a rare immediacy. The glass jars and rusty nails seem familiar - they look like they could be five years old, not 75 or more. 
My father-in-law and I look at an old well
Another way to visit old Bluffton is with the Vanishing Texas River Cruise. They sometimes stop at Old Bluffton (I've taken their river tour of Canyon of the Eagles; it was great). Or you can find instructions on reaching the site on a number of websites. For more information, check out the website describing a field trip to the site by the Llano Uplift Archaeological Society. They have nice photos and a sketch map. (I attended one of their monthly meetings last February - a nice group of archaeologists and knowledgeable amateurs.) There are articles about Old Bluffton in the Texas Observer, focusing on the history of the town, and on the website, Texas Escapes.

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