Time Machine

East Iowa's Lakes: Conservation and flood control

Lake Macbride. No caption information available. Photo appears to show an unidentified woman standing on the steps leading from the beach lodge (foreground) to the beach at Lake Macbride in Johnson County (Johnson Co.). The park opened in June, 1938, with the lake being enlarged in 1955. Photo circa 1957.
Lake Macbride. No caption information available. Photo appears to show an unidentified woman standing on the steps leading from the beach lodge (foreground) to the beach at Lake Macbride in Johnson County (Johnson Co.). The park opened in June, 1938, with the lake being enlarged in 1955. Photo circa 1957.

President Roosevelt's New Deal in 1933 included a program called the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, to hire unemployed young men to work on conservation projects throughout the nation. One of the program's 1,643 camps was established in Solon in 1934.

At the north edge of town at the corner of Iowa and Rock streets, stood a 250-man CCC camp: eight barracks, a bath house, officers' quarters, shop buildings and an infirmary. Groups of 250 men stayed at the camp for about six months before the next crew arrived.

The men worked on the new lake west of Solon on Mill Creek until June 1938. That's when Lake Macbride State Park opened to the public along with Lake Keomah near Oskaloosa and Upper Pine Lake near Eldora.

The lake was named for Thomas Macbride, a professor of botany and president of the University of Iowa.

Coralville Dam

The Coralville Dam also got its start in 1938. That's when the project first was authorized as part of a flood control plan for the upper Mississippi River.

The $15 million Coralville flood control project was dedicated July 25, 1949, two weeks after Phase 1 in construction of the dam had begun in an area where the Iowa River flowed between steep hills. A Gazette story about the dedication said, “Army engineers, who designed the project, say water will never reach a serious flood stage at Iowa City or along the river below Iowa City.”

The Coralville reservoir's main function is to control floods. It was designed so that no more than 30,000 cubic feet of water per second would be emptied into the Mississippi from the Iowa-Cedar River system.
Phase 1 was completed in December 1949. The dam stood 50 feet, half of its final height. It eventually would stand 100 feet high, 1,400 feet in length, 550 feet wide at the base and 22 feet wide at the top. The reservoir would have a capacity of 163 billion gallons of water.

Phase 2, begun in 1950, included the outlet structure, a 23-foot-diameter tube that would regulate the flow of water from the reservoir. A concrete spillway was constructed as well for when the water was too high in the reservoir to be regulated by the outlet.

Work on the dam slowed at the end of summer 1951 when appropriations for construction ran out as Congress diverted funding to the Korean War. Construction stopped from May 1953 until August 1954.
The money for land acquisition remained, however, so the focus on the project shifted. With only a little over 9,000 acres acquired, another 34,700 acres were needed to complete the reservoir. That particular part of the project was less than pleasant, especially for the farmers.

Joe Coufal, one of the largest landowners in the area who would be flooded by the dam, pointed out that, with construction already well underway, there was nothing the farmers could do about the government taking their land.

At a meeting of about 200 farmers, Coufal said, “We are here to arrive at some way of making sure we get a fair price for our homes — and in most cases they are worth more to us than we can hope to get.”
Even so, some farmers refused to sell. A petition for condemnation of 2,237 acres of land in connection with the reservoir project was filed in federal court in Davenport by the U.S. government in 1952. Forty-nine property owners were affected.

At the end of the year, bids were taken for the sale and removal of 70 structures, including barns, cottages, cabins and schoolhouses, that stood in the way of the reservoir. All structures were required to be cleared from the area by May 1, 1953.

Water began flowing through the dam's control gates in July 1956. The old Iowa River channel then was blocked off and pumped dry.

Timber clearing to an elevation of 671 feet was completed at the reservoir at the end of October 1957, but an additional 10 feet of clearing was scheduled soon after.

Three construction contracts still were active in November 1957. One involved the final stage of construction, expected to be completed before cold weather set in. Another contract for raising the Lake Macbride dam from 695 feet to 721 feet.

The Coralville dam pool would cover 1,820 acres. The reservoir's potential flood control pool would cover 24,800 acres. The Army Corps of Engineers wanted to build a larger reservoir but were prevented by a high population in the area. A larger pool would have meant flooding most of the Amana Colonies.

Lake Macbride Effects

The Coralville reservoir required that Macbride park be significantly expanded in 1950 when a much higher dam was planned across Mill Creek to keep the water in the Coralville reservoir from backing up into Lake Macbride. Macbride would retain its V-shape, covering the channels of Mill Creek and Jordan Creek, but would cover an area seven times larger than its original 1934 size. It would grow from 138 acres to 935 acres, requiring a revamping of the whole park.

A new entrance was constructed. New boathouses, a new beach, new picnic areas and custodial houses were built by the Iowa State Conservation Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Limestone blocks carved by CCC workers, used along a parking lot in the original Macbride State Park, were repurposed in 1989. Park workers used them to build planters and a retaining wall at the head of the Solon-Lake Macbride recreational trail about 100 yards inside the main entrance of the park.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; diane.langton@sourcemedia.net

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