An Underwater Ghost Town, Emerged from the Drought

It was a Central Texas town, settled in the 1850s along the banks of the Colorado River. There was a general store, a cotton gin, a school — even a hotel. The town was called Bluffton, and life continued there for decades. By the 1930s, around 50 families were living in or around Bluffton.

Then, the town began a slow death, its last gasping breaths. Because it was decided that this section of the Colorado River should be dammed and expanded, to create Lake Buchanan.

The town of Bluffton would have to be sacrificed to the future.

The people were all relocated. Even the graves were dug up from the cemetery and relocated. In 1937, the area was flooded to create the lake, and Bluffton went underwater, lost forever.

Fast forward 75 years, and here in Central Texas we are experiencing one of the worst droughts in history. Last summer was terrible — very little rain, to the point where a burn ban was enacted throughout much of the state, and terribly destructive wildfires raged; more than 15,000 homes were lost.

Despite the very difficult, negative aspects of the current drought (going on two years now), one interesting aspect has emerged: Bluffton.

As the rains stopped and the water sources slowly dried up, area lakes began dropping by dozens of feet. Lake Buchanan, normally an average of 100 feet deep, fell to about half that. And as the water level steadily dropped, the abandoned ruins of Bluffton reappeared.

Tim Mohan explains the ruins of Bluffton, standing atop the remains of Joel Garrett’s cotton gin.

From Canyon of the Eagles Lodge, a beautiful Texas Hill Country resort with 940 acres of preserved nature trails, bird watching and nesting lands, astronomy observatory, and resort lodging along with camping and RV spaces, I took a boat trip which landed on the revealed “island” where the town of Bluffton lies.

With Vanishing Texas River Cruise, guide Tim Mohan led my group off the boat and showed us around the remains of Bluffton — a ghost town only recently risen from its watery grave. There are the remains of the cotton gin; the general store; the storm cellar of the Hotel. Metal tools, medicine bottles and blacksmith tools. When it first emerged, artifacts were found including a prehistoric skull, old tools and even the graves of freed slaves.

Local historian Alfred Hallmark, whose great-great-great grandfather helped establish Bluffton, has researched the history of the town and its aftermath in a booklet titled, Where Progress Destroyed a Way of Life. In it Hallmark wrote:

Through the years Bluffton survived storms, drought, fire and floods, but finally succumbed to progress.”

There’s really not much here anymore, but the history and simple uniqueness of a town buried underwater — and newly visible once again — is compelling.

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