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History of White Rock Lake, Dam, Spillway, & Pump Station

History of White Rock Lake, Dam, Spillway, & Pump Station

By Jonathan Brower, Director-at-Large, Editorial Committee

White Rock Lake is the Dallas Mecca of the Outdoors if you live, work, and/or play within the city limits of Dallas, TX. The 1000+ acre lake, surrounding trails, and park space currently serve as a civic and recreational haven in the heart of Dallas for runners, cyclists, sailors, kayakers, rowers, fishers, and bird watchers. It may all seem like fun and games now, but White Rock Lake was initially created by civil engineers in the City of Dallas as an infrastructure necessity.

Sunset Over White Rock Lake with Downtown Dallas on the Left, Photo Credit: Jonathan Brower PE

From 1900 to 1910 the population of the city of Dallas more than doubled from 42,000 to 92,000. This put enormous stress on the city’s water supply that, at the time, was relying on the Turtle Creek Reservoir, which was close to present-day Bachman Lake. Under Mayor Stephen Hay, the City of Dallas began to acquire land around White Rock Creek to build a reservoir. The specific location for the reservoir was chosen because the lake would be just high enough in elevation above downtown Dallas to provide enough water pressure for the city’s tallest buildings with minimal pumping. The Fred A. Jones Company began dam construction in the spring of 1910, and completed it in fall of 1911 along with a Renaissance Revival-style pump station. The 40-foot-high, 15-foot-wide earth dam was made of wood pilings and concrete facing on reservoir side. A severe drought delayed the filling of the lake until 1914. The City of Dallas then purchased the land around the lake in 1919, and the lake provided water for Dallasites until 1930 when the construction of Lake Dallas (now Lake Lewisville) was completed1.

White Rock Lake Dam Construction, Photo Credit: Corinthian Sailing Club

The land around the lake was transferred over to the park department in 1929 and the 1254-acre White Rock Lake Park was created making the area purely recreational in function. In 1930 an art deco bathhouse, swimming beach, and dance pavilion were built on the east side of the lake with access provided to this area via a motorboat from the west side of the lake. In 1934, a municipal fish hatchery was built near the dam to stock the lake with edible fish. From 1935 to 1942, during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps established Company 2986 to employ individuals and make improvements around the lake. During a severe drought in 1952, the city of Dallas had to bring White Rock Lake back into basic infrastructure usage for emergency water. As a result of this, the swimming beach on the east side of the lake was closed, never to be opened again. The city continued to pull water from the lake for a few more years pump station on the south end of the lake remained in use until 1964.2

Early Aerial Photo of White Rock Lake, Photo Credit: Corinthian Sailing Club

With nine tributaries feeding into the lake, White Rock Lake has been dredged four times over the years: in 1937, 1955, 1974, and most recently in 1998.3 Currently, the City of Dallas in the midst of a feasibility study to dredge White Rock Lake again. In 2015, the Texas Water Development Board completed a Volumetric and Sedimentation Survey of the lake to analyze the lake’s depth and sediment thickness. More info about the current status of the dredging can be found here.

White Rock Lake Sediment Thickness Map, Image Credit: Texas Water Development Board

Existing Historic Designations at White Rock Lake

Article References