Oklahomans know about the Dust Bowl displacements and relocations, but in the state’s history, not all sites were abandoned because they were dusty. Sometimes, towns in Oklahoma were abandoned because they were underwater.
The vast majority of Oklahoma’s 38 major lakes are man-made, and in the construction, redirected water caused some towns to become future scuba sites.
Lead park ranger of Kaw Lake, Jim Anderson, says that the towns of Kaw City, Uncas and Washaunga were flooded in the creation of Kaw Lake.
“As the lake rose up, it came into different parts of the community,” Anderson says. “You can still see where some of the streets were. The park’s roads are actually the streets of the towns.”
The occupants of the towns were given the option to sell their property to the government, or the government would pay to have their homes moved to the new town site, the present location of Kaw City, Anderson says.
But although these underwater towns have been abandoned since the impoundment of the reservoir in 1976, they are not forgotten.
“I know that especially the old residents of the towns show an interest,” Anderson says. “The Uncas community has a reunion where the residents reminisce about the days gone by.”
Even some of Oklahoma’s biggest names were impacted. Will Rogers’ ranch on Oologah Lake was relocated to higher ground. North Fork Town, old stomping grounds of outlaw Belle Starr, now lies somewhere beneath Lake Eufaula’s waters. But Starr’s schoolhouse and her burial site are located downstream, operations project manager of Lake Eufaula Jeff Knack says.
Knack also tells how town relocations can give new meaning to the term “ghost towns.”
“Most of the questions we get are about the relocation of cemeteries, and we can help with that,” Knack says. He adds that lake offices can help with questions about old home and burial sites.
Because the entire process of creating a new body of water can take as long as 15 years, almost all structures are either relocated or torn down before the flooding begins, Knack says, but sometimes highways still exist.
Anderson adds that the Tulsa District Corps of Engineers created lakes for flood control, and other benefits include hydroelectric power, water supply and, of course, recreational opportunities.
The most recent lake created was Lake Arcadia, opened in 1987. Today, no new lakes are in the construction process so there needn’t be any worries about fish entering your house. Yet.