Photo courtesy of www.ozarkhistory.com Blasting work and construction
on the dam began in the spring of 1941. About 4,000 people
turned out for the spectacle of the first blast.
There's very few people around who could honestly say they used to
live at the bottom of a lake.
The eerie sound of the water and bubbles swishing past old forgotten
buildings, and catfish and bass making their homes amongst once
occupied grave sites in flooded cemeteries and in the rafters and
foundations of decaying schoolhouses. These are the buildings and
ruins of what is left of the towns under the water of what is now
The towns were once known as part of Henderson and Elizabeth, Custer,
Hand, Jordan and Herron. Of course, these forgotten towns weren't
always underneath the water of the Norfork River that ran next to
Photo courtesy of www.ozarkhistory.com Construction of the dam took
about three years. At the time of completion, the Norfork Dam
was one of the six largest concrete dams in the country. Two
companies hired to do the contracting work were also hired to
work on the Grand Coulee Dam and Hoover Dam.
According to Baxter County and Mountain Home documents, during the
Depression Era, the town of Mountain Home was struggling, and many
farmers were leaving their lands around the area for better jobs up
north. For many of us, it's hard to imagine this now bustling town as
being in a dire situation with hardly any businesses to attract
customers and only one or two paved roads. However, in the 1930s, the
town and the area was just trying to make ends meet.
The residents knew something had to be done. It was decided a dam had
to be built, not only to control flood waters that threatened farming
property, but also to bring in jobs. The Norfork Dam was to be one of
eight dams in the White River basin.
Two companies were awarded construction contracts: the
Morrison-Knudsen Company and the Utah Construction Company. These two
companies already had a prestigious reputation from building the
Grand Coulee Dam and Hoover Dam. At the time it was completed, 1944,
Norfork Dam was one of the six biggest concrete dams in the country.
The dam, plus the hydroelectric powerhouse, cost about $28.5 million.
Photo courtesy of www.ozarkhistory.com This aerial photo of the lake
taken right after the reservoir was filled shows small bits of
debris from the towns that once occupied the area.
On a spring day in 1941, about 4,000 people showed up at the building
site to witness the first blast into the earthen hillside for the
dam. This blast was a herald of doom for the towns that lay below the
dam site in the reservoir.
As anyone can imagine, not all people were happy about the
construction, especially those whose homes were going to be flooded
when the dam was completed. About 400 people had to leave their
homes. If a land owner had buildings on his land, the government
would pay for their land, but if there were no structures on the
property, then the land owner would lose everything that was covered
Reble Comstock, 90, of Viola, was once a resident of one of the towns
that is now partially covered by Norfork Lake. Comstock used to live
in Elizabeth near Big Creek. She said, though her father's farm
wasn't affected much by the rising lake water, many of her neighbor's
farms were. "The worst thing was that we lost our neighbors,"
Comstock said. "They couldn't go out and do anything, so they had to
"The dam was the biggest change in my life," Comstock said.
Comstock remembers what the towns were like before the dam was built.
She said there was a church in Hand that is now covered by water
around Keller's Cove near to Hand Cove. The Hand Cove area that
straddles the Fulton-Baxter County line is named after the town that
was covered by the water when the dam went in.
"In Herron (and Henderson), there was a schoolhouse that was also a
church," Comstock said. "It's now under water."
Not only did the living have to be relocated, but the dead had to be
moved as well. Cemeteries in the towns of Custer and Herron had to be
moved to higher ground. The cemetery is now known as the
Custer-Herron Cemetery on Highway 62-412 just beyond the
Fulton-Baxter County line.
According to the Scuba Doo Dive Shop in Mountain Home, which does
some diving to the bottom of Norfork Lake, there is very little left
of the towns except foundations and an old bridge. "It's a great dive
down to the bridge," Elizabeth Kenyon of Scuba Doo Dive Shop said.
She said there are still some rafters of the bridge left and there is
an old motorcycle sitting on top of it.
Though the dam brought jobs and prosperity to Mountain Home, smaller
towns were destroyed and forgotten. Comstock, however, has a positive
view. "What helps one, hurts the other," Comstock said. "But, I guess
that's a good thing."
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Norfork Lake Map