Huntsville State Park

History

Huntsville State Park is a 2,083.2-acre recreational area, six miles southwest of Huntsville, in Walker County. It was acquired by deeds from private owners in 1937 and was opened in 1938.

In the early 1930s, it was suggested at a meeting of the Huntsville-Walker County Chamber of Commerce that a large public recreation place, in one of the several magnificently timbered areas around Huntsville, be built. The Chamber of Commerce approached the Texas State Parks Board with this proposal. The board told them that the community would need to donate the land. Twenty thousand dollars in bonds would have to be sold by Walker County to pay for the land needed. In early 1936, the voters of Walker County voted better than four to one in favor of (700 for and 160 against, county-wide) the bond issue.

A site was selected, plans were drawn up by local engineers and planners, and the plans were submitted to the federal park board and the state board for approval. The detailed construction work was under the direction of the state park board, of which ex-Governor Pat Neff was chairperson. Under the guidance of such experts as Milton J. McColm, Herbert Mainer and Tommy Thompson of the National Park Service, two sites were considered for the location of the park. One was northwest of Huntsville in the Moffett Springs and Nelson Creek area, and the other was the present site. The latter was selected because its topography offered a site for a dam that would create a lake for boating, fishing and swimming. A part of the site was virgin hardwood, and part was cut-over land from which pine trees had been harvested, but which had regenerated good second growth. On the site, Big Chiquapin and Little Chiquapin Creeks merged and flowed on to join Prairie Branch. At a spot below the junction, a dam was constructed.

In October 1937, Civilian Conservation Corps Co. 1823 (C/V), an African-American veteran company, was brought in to begin construction at Huntsville State Park. This company was also responsible for construction at Palmetto State Park, Longhorn Cavern State Park, Kerrville-Schreiner State Park and Abilene State Park. The major structure built by the CCC at Huntsville was the dam creating Lake Raven. The CCC also built one major building, the group recreation hall. This dressed stone and wooden structure has had only a small addition, and is otherwise unchanged. Other structures include a frame pumphouse, stone culverts and stone road curbing.

One significant problem was fencing such a large area. The Texas Highway Department had just concluded that wire netting guards at road turns were no longer adequate for the increasing speed and weight of road traffic. This wire netting became obsolete and much of it was used to fence the park. Examples of the wire netting still exist.

A natural disaster occurred early in the park's history. Twelve inches of rain fell within two days, flooding the area, and on Sunday, November 24, 1940, the dam spillway collapsed. Estimates to repair the damage ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars with nothing approaching the needed amount seemingly possible. CCC forces withdrew. All was at a standstill except the trees. Nature continued to grow them fine and big.

The park was idle for almost 10 years, until a new agency was called on for help. Director A.D. Folweiler of the Texas Forest Service was invited to study and make suggestions on a plan for selectively cutting and marketing trees in the park. The resulting plan proposed that money from the sale of timber should go into a fund to rebuild the dam spillway and complete the park. A bill to authorize this was drafted. Senator Neveille Colson offered S.B. 486 during the regular session of the 51st Texas Legislature. The bill was passed and signed, authorizing the Texas State Parks Board to cut $250,000 worth of timber in the park, with proceeds to be used for rebuilding. Restrictions specified that the cutting must be selective under the Texas Forest Service, and the sale of felled trees would be by competitive bidding.

Experienced foresters painted broad yellow bands on trees selected for harvest. Southland Paper Mills of Trinity was the high bidder on the marked trees, estimated to produce 2,323,000 board feet of pine and 217,000 board feet of hardwood. Approximately 1,000 cords of pulpwood were also sold incidental to the operation. Trees were so well selected that park visitors would find it difficult to tell where they stood. None, for example, were taken from nearly 200 acres along the entrance road and use area.

Funds were materializing and the Texas State Board of Water Engineers authorized a permit for repair of the dam spillway if a new dam could be made safe. Huntsville tendered services of City Engineer N.B. Davidson. The State Water Board assigned Ivan M. Stout to the study along with Mr. Davidson and Park Engineer F. A. McNeil. Spencer J. Buchanan and Associates prepared detailed plans and soil studies. The engineering studies determined that if the bed of Lake Raven was paved with clay for a predetermined distance behind the dam to stop seepage, a properly baffled spillway would succeed. The contract for the job went to low bidder Trinity Construction Company. The dam was rebuilt and accepted in April 1956 by the State Board of Control.

In anticipation of use, the highway department hard topped the roads, and prisoners from Huntsville State Prison cleared underbrush from the lakeshore. The opportunity existed to build a fishing lake as it should be built properly from the start.

The Texas Game and Fish Commission accepted the challenge to do just that. Aquatic Biologist Kenneth C. Jurgens surveyed the site and directed what should be removed and what should remain. Gar and other rough fish in the small channel were killed and buried. The lake was then stocked with black bass, bream and crappie, and a fertilization program was initiated to ensure that they thrived.

The Huntsville-Walker County Chamber of Commerce dedicated and opened Huntsville State Park to the public on Friday, May 18, 1956.


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