Bob Mitchell: They walked on water

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

This area’s recent experiences with record rainfall and flooding brought to mind some research back to the mid-1950s when local folks were pounding on any door available in support of building Table Rock Lake on the White River.

Construction actually began in 1954 with a target date for completion four years down the road. The 252-foot-high structure was to eliminate flooding conditions on the river complex upstream.

Two years before the completion of the dam, unusually heavy rains hit the area, spreading flood conditions throughout the reservoir area and actually sending water over the top of the incomplete structure. With no floodgates in place at this time, there were no alternative choices to follow.

Upstream hit hard

In Barry County, upstream areas in the communities of Eagle Rock, Golden and Shell Knob — locations that county funds had paid for bridge constructions in previous years — were inundated by the high waters. Transportation between the communities and in some cases even getting into them was either impossible or considerably more time consuming than previously.

Residents of the area, and onlookers of Table Rock Lake, got an early look at what the reservoir eventually created by the high-dam would be for future generations.

This was when officials in the county started to be concerned about the system of bridges over White River might be when it came time for replacement projects. Their concerns were justified, as later information will outline.

They walked on water

At Shell Knob, the structure connecting that community with the Viola area — which was the largest of the structures — was serving probably the heaviest population of the area.

It was here that volunteers operated boats to ferry youngsters to meet school busses, continue mail deliveries and perform any emergency situation that might exist.

All the activities usually attracted spectators to the bridge area, where one afternoon, two area residents — John Cupps Sr. and Jake Turner — boated out to the bridge, exited their craft, and got atop the bridge, which was covered with six inches of water. They walked on the top structures of the crossing and posed for photos for those standing on the shore.

This event was probably one of the best photo ops that went through my camera lens. Whatever happened to those negatives remains a mystery today.

The mail went through

Quick to show their skills at operating a boat in the deep water were a couple of Viola residents, among those volunteering for crossing chores at the time. Carl Hale and Earl Curry were the gentlemen equipped with vessels and the required life preservers for each of their passengers.

They were compensated for their gasoline and a small portion for their time while performing the valuable services.

Opposed to the lake

There was some opposition to Table Rock in those days. Some folks preferred to live in the river situations of White, Kings and James, instead of having an 800-mile shoreline reservoir. Most vocal of those was Lester Loftin, who was later to become presiding judge of Barry County.

The Loftins lived on James River in the Owens Bend area and was Ozark smart enough to join those in opposition, if for no other reason than to increase the value of their lake-area farms when it came time for buyout by the government.

Loftin actually wore out his automobile in trips to Washington, D.C., to voice his objection to the lake as debate continued on initially funding the project.

He never did lay any claim as to whether his objection paid any bonus for his holdings, but what remained above lake take lines resulted in one of the finest developments on the lake.

Later efforts out of Cassville persuaded the Missouri Public Service Commission to award telephone service to that area to the Shell Knob exchange.

Bridge problems

Barry County and surrounding interests were to quickly learn that only one of the county bridges would be replaced, Eagle Rock. This would provide access to a new road planned by Missouri around the south side of Table Rock.

This meant there would be no connecting access between the Mano and Golden community and would eliminate going from Shell Knob into the Viola community.

Interests began getting their ducks in a row looking for any support to encourage the Army Corps of Engineers and Missouri Highway Department to replace the two crossings that had been bought and paid for by the citizens in Barry County beginning back in 1927. What the county folks had in mind in getting approval of crossings in Washington, were the three bridges, all on White River.

To be continued next week.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat, and a 2017 inductee into Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.

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