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The Underwater Ghost Town of Bluffton, Texas

by
Nov 17th, 2023

Did you know that Texas has an underwater ghost town?

That’s right! The only inhabitants in the small town of Bluffton are fish and water bugs now, as it’s been sitting at the bottom of Lake Buchanan for almost a century!

Bluffton: Texas’ sunken ghost town

In the heart of the Texas Hill Country near Llano, nestled amidst rolling hills and lush greenery, lies the underwater ghost town of Bluffton, Texas. Once a vibrant community teeming with life, Bluffton is now a silent sanctuary beneath the shimmering surface of Lake Buchanan. Its story is one of classic western expansion, resilience, adaptation and ultimately, a bittersweet surrender to the forces of nature.

The town's origins trace back to the mid-1800s when a pioneer named Billy Davis settled on the banks of the Colorado River. In 1853, his relative Isaac B. Maxwell joined him, and together they named the new settlement after Maxwell’s hometown of Bluffton, Arkansas. 

Bluffton’s location was strategic. Not only did it have quick and easy access to the Colorado River and its tributaries, but it was close to several popular river crossings and land routes. A nearby saltworks business meant people would be moving to the area, and it was right in-between the larger towns of Llano and Burnet. 

As word of the fertile land and abundant resources spread, more settlers flocked to Bluffton. The town grew steadily, attracting families, merchants, and entrepreneurs. Cotton became a major crop, and a cotton gin was erected to process the harvest. By 1883 a schoolhouse and community center were also built, fostering a strong sense of community among the residents. Pecan orchards flourished, fields yielded bountiful harvests and the town became a hub for local commerce, creating booming business for the town’s hotels, salons and blacksmith shops.

In the early 1930s, the New Deal era brought significant changes to the Texas Hill Country. The construction of the Buchanan Dam, part of the ambitious plan to harness the Colorado River for hydroelectric power and irrigation, threatened to submerge Bluffton. The town's residents faced a difficult decision: to abandon their homes and livelihoods or to fight to preserve their beloved community.

Over the next decade, the town's fate hung in the balance. The Lower Colorado River Authority, the agency responsible for the dam project, began acquiring land in the area, and the rising waters of the reservoir crept closer to Bluffton's doorstep. In 1937 the dam was completed, the first of Texas’ Highland Lakes was completed and the town’s time, unfortunately, had finally run out.

The residents of Bluffton, facing the inevitable, reluctantly relocated to higher ground, establishing a new Bluffton about seven miles west of the original site. The old Bluffton, once a vibrant center of life, sank beneath the waters of Lake Buchanan, leaving behind a submerged ghost town. The above-ground town fared not much better, as the dam’s construction also necessitated re-routing the highway between Llano and Burnet and left the new Bluffton high, dry and alone.

Over the years, the town's submerged remnants have emerged and disappeared again, depending on the water levels of the lake. In the early 2010s, a severe drought caused the lake's levels to recede, revealing the ruins of Bluffton once more. Archaeologists and historians seized the opportunity to explore the town, uncovering foundations of homes, remnants of businesses and even a cemetery!

The reappearance of Bluffton sparked a renewed interest in the town's history and the lives of its former residents. Descendants of the original settlers shared stories of their childhoods in Bluffton, painting vivid pictures of a close-knit community where life was simple and the spirit of camaraderie prevailed.

Unfortunately, the town's reprieve from the depths was short-lived. As the drought subsided and the lake levels rose again, Bluffton was once more swallowed by the waters. Today, the town remains submerged, a silent testament to the resilience and adaptation of its former inhabitants.

The tale of Bluffton, Texas, is a reminder of the impermanence of human settlements in the face of nature's forces. It's a story of resilience, adaptation, and the bittersweet farewell to a place that once held so much meaning. While the town's physical presence has faded, its legacy lives on in the memories of its former residents and the enduring spirit of Bluffton that lives on in the hearts of those who knew it.

If you live near our luxury Austin apartments, then be sure to head over to the new Bluffton sometime to see the historic buildings and gaze over the water in memory of the sunken town below the calm waters of Lake Buchannan!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/SplitShire

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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