Lake Fannin

History and “Last Sunday”


    The site dates from the earliest history of Fannin County. Dr. Daniel Rowlett and his party had arrived in Jonesboro on March 1, 1836. “Changing boats,” they continued upstream toward Bois d’Arc Creek, “losing one [drowned] and wading ashore,” to settle a place “in the early records called Lexington.” In 1845 Rowlett was granted the surrounding land by the Republic of Texas.       

    By 1902 natural  springs had made possible a small lake where a large house served as a “country club” for prominent families in Bonham. Beulah Harvey worked as a cook at the house, and when it was later occupied by foremen and others working for the Rural Resettlement Administration (1936-38), she continued as cook. The surrounding farmland had become severely depleted and eroded by the cotton economy and the weather-related conditions of the Dust Bowl; and the larger economic consequences of the Great Depression meant that large numbers of able-bodied men were on the relief rolls of the county.  What would become 75-acre “Lake Fannin” was the first Resettlement Administration project of its size in the United States, and the only one of its kind in Texas. More than 400 workers were employed. 


    Several of the photographs appearing here were made by Malcolm Campbell, project director, as part of an extensive visual record he created to show the work in progress.

    The old country club lake was drained and a new one created: “Fannin County Has First RRA Dam,” headlined The Bonham Daily Favorite on October 8, 1936.

    1938 July 21: (Bonham Herald)  ...and who do you suppose was one of the powers...? None other than Congressman Sam Rayburn.... Mr. Rayburn went over the whole situation, many times no doubt with the powers in Washington, for he saw several things in the idea. He saw submarginal lands used for something. He had visions of hundreds and hundreds of men getting work. He saw that work and good pay good for dry goods, groceries, hardware, implements of all kinds....

    Go down around a curve to find the clear blue waters of Lake Fannin, banked by stately green trees and picturesque rock cabins on its banks, is a constant delight to visitors on their first arrival. The entrance, as pictured (below), resembles a scene plucked from a travel folder and placed in this perfect setting of rolling hills. Many thousands visit Lake Fannin during summer months, play in its inviting water, dance in its Lodge, breathe its invigorating air and go home refreshed and ready for another struggle with a workaday world.

    —from “Narrative Description” for National Register of Historic Places (2001), prepared by John E. Ippolito, U. S. Forest Service, Heritage Resource Program Manager:

    Overlooking the Red River and Oklahoma to the west and north, and the 75-acre Lake Fannin to the east, the camp facilities include a lodge, bath house, caretaker’s complex, vacation cabins, a latrine, fire pits and a boat house (the open deck atop the boat house was also used as a dance floor), all concentrated on the western side of the lake. The caretaker’s complex includes the log residence, a well/pump house and a wooden water tower constructed in the 1930s.... There were originally 16 vacation cabins constructed in the camp; seven of these cabins have been destroyed....   Small erosional gullies throughout the  complex effectively isolate the landforms on which the buildings rest.... Vegetation within the complex is dominated by a canopy of large oaks and cedar trees, with a thick midstory of cedar saplings and hardwood brush, and an understory of grasses and woody vines.... The absence of intensive vegetation management over the last twenty years has contributed to the existence of very thick, dense stands of cedar brush throughout the area.... Several structures within the camp, most notably the bathhouse and latrine, are threatened by their close proximity to large canopy oaks....

    The Lodge:  This building is the signature structure of the complex, functioning as the hub for all social activities within the complex during the early years of its existence. This 53’ x 86’ stone structure is located on the high ridge overlooking the Red River valley to its west. The original floor plan included a dining hall, a foyer, a kitchen with walk-in pantry.... Two large fireplaces, located on the north wall of the foyer and on the east wall of the dining hall, dominate the interior furnishings. Pine paneling is present throughout the structure. The flagstone terrace.... In its original configuration, french doors separated the dining hall and foyer...the lodge retains its architectural and historical integrity....

    The lake construction, coupled with sodding, terracing and installation of smaller check dams, was successful in controlling erosion, and the area served as a popular public recreation site until 1956....

    The camp layout, architectural and design elements, and building materials are all distinctive to planned landscapes created by federal public works projects during the 1930s...provided the residents of Fannin County an important recreational resource that was not available prior to its construction.... From the beginning, the Resettlement Administration was in the business of planning, financing, constructing and populating new communities. An army of architects and landscape architects was employed in this endeavor, and when required, they threw their expertise into other projects, such as recreational development....

    There are three reasons why Lake Fannin should be included in this Web site. First, it was a part of the Rural Resettlement Administration’s work (beginning in 1936) to restore the land and return it to productivity, as seen in the “government farms” that were created in Mulberry. Second, and highly “personal” for me, it was the site of a family outing in 1938, soon after the park opened, on a fateful day in August, the “Last Sunday” that my grandmother Maudie Gregory was with us in this life. Third, it was where the Halls of Mulberry had their “family reunions” for almost fifteen years. Not forgetting my “Eighth Birthday....”

the “Last Sunday” with her

Dean, Wanda, Alvin, Maudie, Clayton and Gregory

    1971 August 14: ... that day I spent with my mother in the park at Lake Fannin [in 1938]. The last day I visited with of the days I dread to meet on the calendar.

    1985 August 14:  My mother died in our home forty-seven years ago today at the age of fifty-one.  She was a quiet spirit of love that permeated the modest home, and each child was given as much love as he or she needed.  I didn’t need much, so I didn’t get much.

    I loved my mother more than anything in the world, and when she suddenly closed her eyes and left us, my whole world fell apart.  It was ten full years before I was able to conquer the overwhelming loss I felt.  I kept count of the years, as they dragged by, and every morning when I woke up, I would unbelievingly stare at the walls and think.  She’s here.  She’s got to be here.  She can’t be dead.  Yet I knew in my heart that she was.  In a way, I never did get over it, yet I know I did, because God made it so we have to.  Time finally wins.  Today I am teary-eyed, sad, always yearning for my mother.  Sometime today I will weep bitter tears, then I will wonder why I did it.  I have never put a flower on her grave.  In fact, I have visited the grave—count the times on one hand.  I don’t feel guilty about that.  That’s the way it has to be.  Any other way would not be me.  The three or four times I have been to her grave, she wasn’t there.  So I walked away, realizing that she is in my heart, buried so deep and so secure, and that is where she will always be.  I know she is content there, and I can be happy to be aware of her presence.  This is the first time I have ever written how I feel about my mother.