(VitalNews.org) – A sustained drought in central Texas has brought renewed interest to a lake steeped in local history. A reservoir created in 1954 after a series of flash floods brought destruction to what was left of an already dwindling collection of communities has seen its water levels drop steadily through the dry weather. Lake Belton is normally known as a haven many species of wildlife as well as an effective way to mitigate floods and store vital water supplies. What makes it more unusual, however, is what it hides under its surface.
Local researcher and journalist, Patricia Benoit, explained that settlers created small but thriving communities in the area throughout the history of Texas, with evidence for settlements being built as far back as 1844. Many of the people who settled in the region had left Tennessee or Oklahoma in the aftermath of the Civil War, and the area became known as “Tennessee Valley” as more camps and towns grew. One such community was the town of Sparta which lies submerged under Lake Belton today.
Although the communities grew in number and prosperity through the second half of the 19th century, numbers dwindled in the 20th century as people moved in search of better prospects. By the 1940’s the town of Bland, which had previously been home to hundreds of people, found itself deserted except for 20 elderly people who remained behind.
The 1940’s and 1950’s saw further disaster strike these already depleted rural communities. Flash flooding hit the area repeatedly, destroying property and taking as many as 30 lives in the area. The flooding caught the attention of the government, which was looking for suitable locations for reservoirs. The ghost town of Sparta was selected as a prime spot for a reservoir to be built. Graves were moved to alternative locations, although some say that there would have been unmarked graves the authorities did not find, meaning that they may remain under the waters of Lake Belton.
While some believe that they may be about to witness the reappearance of the historic ghost town as the lake’s level drops, local park ranger Arty Johnson has his doubts. He explained that water levels would need to drop a further 50 feet, which he thought unlikely. He did warn, however, that the reduction in lake depth could result in dangerous conditions for anybody wishing to spend leisure time on the lake and added that people should be watchful for newly exposed obstacles such as dead trees or sandbars.
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