From the GRDA History Files: Groundbreaking for Robert S. Kerr Dam

Power for Progress…
A weekly column from the Grand River Dam Authority

Two decades after it first harnessed the waters of the Grand River with the construction of Pensacola Dam, the Grand River Dam Authority more than doubled its hydroelectric generation capacity with the construction of the Robert S. Kerr Dam (Markham Ferry Project).

Actually, surveys for Kerr’s construction were completed in the late 1930s, at the same time engineers were planning to build Pensacola Dam. However, bonds were only authorized for the construction of the first dam at that time. It wasn’t until the early 1960s — after a bit of a tug-of-war with the United States Corps of Engineers over who would be allowed to build Kerr the dam — that GRDA was able to break ground.

Here’s how longtime GRDA Consulting Engineer W.R. Holway remembered that day, in his book A History of the Grand River Dam Authority:

In this GRDA archive photo from February 17, 1964, former Oklahoma Governor Henry Bellmon was leading a group on a tour of the state's newest hydroelectric project -- GRDA's Robert S. Kerr Dam.

“On January 2, 1962, the Authority held an official ground-breaking for the construction of the Markham Ferry Project at the dam site on Grand River … On the day of the ground-breaking the Board of Directors met in regular session and passed a resolution naming the dam the ‘Robert S. Kerr Dam’ and naming the lake to be created by the dam ‘Lake Hudson’ in honor of Wash E. Hudson, a member of the Board of Directors.”

At that same meeting, GRDA Chairman Ben Owens called the date “a very great and memorable day for the Board of Directors and expressed his desire that the Board would adopt a resolution “of gratitude and thanks for the efforts of all who have made the occasion possible – civic clubs, chambers of commerce, and many, many civic leaders down through the years …this Board’s efforts have been minute in the successful culmination of the Project, and it should be publicly acknowledged that we only picked it up from the people who came before us.”

The GRDA municipal customer community of Pryor was the site for most of the events of the day, with a special luncheon, sponsored by the Pryor Chamber of Commerce, in the Graham Memorial Auditorium. There was also a special groundbreaking parade through downtown and, finally, at 3PM, the crowd moved out to the Markham Ferry construction site on the Grand River, for the official groundbreaking.

Complete in 1964, Robert S. Kerr Dam and Lake Hudson have now provided nearly half a century worth of benefits to the people of the state of Oklahoma. All those years of flood control, recreational opportunities and the production of low-cost, reliable electricity have served to reinforce the vision of the men and women who gathered on that cold day in January 1962 to celebrate this important milestone in Oklahoma’s history.

Headquartered in Vinita, GRDA is Oklahoma’s state-owned electric utility; fully funded by revenues from electric and water sales instead of taxes. Directly or indirectly, GRDA’s low-cost, reliable; electricity serves nearly 500,000 homes in Oklahoma and stretches into 75 of 77 counties in the state. At no cost to Oklahoma taxpayers, GRDA also manages 70,000 surface acres of lakes in the state, including Grand Lake, Lake Hudson and the W.R. Holway Reservoir. Today, GRDA’s 500 employees continue to produce the same “power for progress” that has benefited the state for 75 years.

               – Justin Alberty
               GRDA Corporate Communications Director

# # #