Kimberling City, Missouri
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Table Rock Lake.

    Table Rock Lake is a huge impoundment of the historic White River, located mostly in Southwest Missouri, with some portions of its arms extending into Northwest Arkansas. This lake was created with the construction of Table Rock Dam by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, from 1954 to 1958. The lake filled to present day levels in 1959, though the Corps and popular opinion was that it would take two or three years to fill. Everyone failed to take into account the well-known vagaries and power of the dangerous White River, which drains a huge area of the Ozarks and many times flooded its valley with disastrous consequences until several of such dams brought it pretty much ( but not totally) under control.

Kimberling City Bridge
    Table Rock is a large lake with a surface area of 43,100 acres and a shoreline that is normally 745 miles in length, but expands to 857 miles when the lake is at flood stage. The lake ranges to about 200 feet in depth at the dam. There are small areas much, much deeper than that where the old White River once washed out very deep whirlpools at the foot of many surrounding tall rock cliffs. An interesting fact is that the lake contains some 3,462,000 acre/feet of water, which translates into something like a TRILLION gallons of water. That’s enough water to give every man, woman and child on the entire surface of the earth, two-fifty-five gallon barrels of water each – and still have enough depth in the lake to go fishing. Now, that’s a lotta watta!

    Table Rock Dam and the lake were long ago planned by Empire District Electric, who originally built Powersite Dam back in 1913 to create Lake Taneycomo. Powersite was built to generate marketable electrical power, but Lake Taneycomo’s value and wide-spread sport and transportation usage soon overshadowed that venue. Lake Taneycomo was a swimming and pleasure lake from 1913 until 1958, when Table Rock Dam was completed. When that dam began spilling vast amounts of retained water through its generators from the bottom of Table Rock Lake, that water was quite cold and soon chilled Taneycomo, ruining the swimming, pleasure boating and other such uses. However, the cold water soon turned Taneycomo into one of the finest trout fishing lakes in the entire Midwest, which it remains so today – much to its extensive fame.

    The builders of Powersite soon found the construction of the much greater Table Rock Dam was beyond their scope and resources. In the 1930’s they abandoned their planning and surveying for the project and allowed it to be turned over to the federal government, who in turn gave the project to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. First funded in 1943, the project was halted by the onset of the Second World War. Even after that time it lay in abeyance until its cause was undertaken by Senator Dewey Long, who knew that his Central Ozarks Region desperately needed the impetus of the dam and the lake, as well as the control of the ever-dangerous flooding White River, if the area was ever to begin serious and stable growth. The senator finally drove the new funding and authorization for the dam through Congress and, in 1954, construction began.

    Electrical power from the dam has repaid its cost many times over in the past years. But the value of the lake itself as a fishing, sporting and recreational venue has brought countless millions of sports-folk and tourists to the Branson and general lake area over the years – together with the also countless millions of dollars they spend in the lake’s region. This has been instrumental in the growth of the famed Silver Dollar City attraction, Shepherd of the Hills attraction, and all the ‘shows’ and entertainment venues of the world famous ‘strip’ in Branson, Missouri.

Flooding 2011
2011 flooding. The lake level was only a few inches away from going over the South end of the Kimberling City bridge roadway (Hwy 13).
Though Table Rock Dam, together with Beaver Dam and other of the Ozarks dams have pretty much controlled the White River’s wild flooding, the river hasn’t entirely been conquered, as the area has learned twice in recent years (2008 & 2011). The vast drainage areas for Table Rock and Beaver Lakes have twice accumulated such unusually huge amounts of rain-water runoff that both dams have had to release giant amounts of water through their floodgates. This has, twice, seriously flooded out hundreds of fine homes and businesses built along the shores of Taneycomo Lake. However, that is the often warned-of danger of building in a well-known ‘flood-plain.’ Those taking this casually doubted risk have had to face the sad results when the risk materialized - twice.

Flooding 2011
2011 flooding. Table Rock Dam, all spill ways were opened. The picture shows the Lake Taneycomo side of the dam.
    The lakes of Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas including primarily Table Rock Lake, have always played a huge role in the area’s fantastic and fascinating growth. Entire towns of retirement homes have grown up in the last fifty years, as well as countless businesses both large and small, together with a plethora of entertainment theaters and venues. And mostly because the area’s lakes have furnished the spirit, incentive and income to generate it all. There is no finer, more beautiful, peaceful and pleasant place to live than in the Mid-Ozarks Region. The Table Rock Lake area has a famous, and fun, motto: “On your third or fourth visit, bring your furniture, because you’ll naturally decide to stay forever.”

By: Jim Barrett

If you are interested in historical photos and stories about the Ozarks area contact Jim Barrett at RT's Restaurant in Kimberling City.

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