Stephen F. Austin State University

Toledo Bend Reservoir (February 2017)

Toledo Bend Reservoir

by Jonnie Miller

On the Sabine between Texas and Louisiana is a man-made lake with an area of 185,000 acres, the largest in the South and the fifth largest in the United States. The dam is capable of generating 92 megawatts of electrical power. Located in the northeast corner of Newton County, most of the reservoir itself extends northward for 65 miles and is 10 miles wide and 110 feet deep.

The Sabine River Authority oversaw this project for the construction of a multi-purpose dam and reservoir on the river. It took 10 years to gain title to all 206,000 acres for the hydro-electric power generation water supply. Sam Forse Collins supervised the purchase of the land and the relocation of cemeteries in both Texas and Louisiana. For some families the relocation was emotional and to the extent possible those families were asked for consent. However, for the benefit of the states involved and the courts overseeing such things the move was carried out

The reservoir project was begun in 1964 and was called the Texas Archeological Salvage Project. Relocation of the Toledo Bend Cemetery began in 1964 with the locating and identifying of each grave with markers in order to maintain the relative geographic position of the location of the grave in the cemetery. Great care was given to maintaining the exact location of the graves in the cemetery so that relatives would not be lost. The graves were then excavated and transported to the new location, two acres lying northwest of the existing cemetery at the Mitchell Scott Cemetery. The new location had to be cleared and a chain link fence installed to enclose the area. Old stones and markers were carefully repaired and placed. For unknowns a marker indicating that was placed on the graves. Seventy-two graves were relocated, sometimes only a piece of rock was found with nothing on them. Thirty-three could be identified by some kind of marker while thirty-nine were "unknowns." The families with kin were the Snells, Howards, Colvilles, Thompsons, Lenahans, McGees, Hogues and Coplins. The oldest was a Snell who died April 17, 1848. No burials were carried on before 1861 and most were from 1880 to 1890. Only ten were buried after the turn of the century and the last was in 1944.

The remains of a lady who died on board a boat while traveling from Logansport to Orange were included. The captain of the boat got permission from the Thompson family to bury her in the Toledo Cemetery. There were eight graves outside the fence who were African/American. Seven were unknowns and one had a marker of the Palmer family. These were moved to the Scott Cemetery.

The workers dug down to six feet to make sure all that was there could be recovered. All that remained or that could be found were small pieces of pine, remnants of pine boxes. All headstones and markers along with remains from each grave were placed in prefabricated boxes and were moved to the new site.

After all were removed, the area was cleared and excavated to about a foot of top soil to determine any additional grave sites. A definite outline of each grave could be determined because the soil does not blend after burial. Sixteen cemeteries containing 1,357 graves had to be relocated in Louisiana and 215 graves in ten cemeteries in Texas. There were no caskets were found in Texas and few in Louisiana.