In Central Texas, about an hour Northwest of Austin, Lake Buchanan hides a watery secret. Underneath the depths of one of Texas’ manmade lakes lies one of Texas’ creepiest lost ghost towns.
In the 1850s, the Davis family established the original Bluffton. After a fire destroyed the tiny town in 1883, residents moved a few miles south to again establish a community. This time, they chose an area off a stagecoach route. That route, which eventually became Highway 29, helped grow the town.
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But as electricity became increasingly popular, the area needed a source of hydroelectric power and water. Officials chose to dam up nearby Colorado River to build Lake Buchanan.
The decision forced 50 families in the area to sell their homes and land. The designed lake was meant to flood the area, and most residents understood the need for it. When the Great Depression hit, many residents in the town even worked to help build the damn. Hey, money is money.
The dam took longer than expected because the company funding it went bankrupt (along with most of America) in 1931. FDR’s New Deal reinvigorated the project, which builders completed in 1937.
As part of the construction, workers assisted Bluffton residents in relocating the graves of more than 300 deceased community members. Workers shifting dirt to the dam commonly found the spare bone or belt buckle. Residents intended on leaving the area fairly scarce and carrying their lives on elsewhere, including yet another Bluffton 7 miles away.
Officials told residents to take their time, as it would take years to fill the lake. Unfortunately, heavy Texas floods and rains in excess of 20 inches caused the lake to fill to capacity in a matter of months. Residents weren’t completely able to remove themselves from the area and Bluffton submerged into its watery grave.
Most folks forgot the history of the area until its first partial resurfacing during a drought in 1984. In 2009, when severe droughts in Texas crippled water reserves, Lake Buchanan dropped 26 feet — enough to completely reveal the small town hidden 75 years earlier.
People began traveling to see the ghost town: grave sites, home remains, a hotel, a cotton gin, a burial for freed slaves — even the concrete foundations of one of the original Texaco gas stations. The Vanishing Texas River Cruise began offering historic tours of the area when the lake ran low enough.
Unfortunately, as news of the ghost town spread, visitors began flocking. It’s illegal to remove artifacts from the area, but that hasn’t stopped some careless tourists from doing so.
Bluffton is an incredible piece of Texas history that helps us peer into early life in the Hill Country. If you go visit the ghost town, be sure to do so with respect for the folks who once called it home.