A “Grand” Lake for a new dam

Mar 31, 2020

Grand from the beginning … Sailboats are lined up and ready to sail in this shot of Grand Lake, taken in the latter days of Pensacola Dam’s construction and the earliest days of the lake’s existence, in 1940.

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

As we continue to celebrate Pensacola Dam’s 80 years of service to Oklahoma, we are exploring the many different stories surrounding the dam, Grand Lake and all those who helped to make it possible. This week, we take another look back at how the lake become so “Grand” in the first place …

If things had gone like Mr. Wm. P. Appleby of Claremore suggested in the late 1930s, there would be no Grand Lake.

Don’t get the wrong idea; Mr. Appleby wasn’t against Grand Lake; he was just in favor of another name. Appleby was just one of many interested parties who submitted name ideas for the new lake, back in the days when GRDA was still building Pensacola Dam. Appleby’s letter to GRDA, dated February 16, 1938, reveals “Chouteau Lake” was his choice for the new body of water that would forever change the landscape of Northeast Oklahoma.

He wasn’t alone. In fact, a group called the Pioneers of Oklahoma took a vote and out of 12,000 ballots, 98 percent agreed with Appleby. Why? Likely because Chouteau was a pioneer in Oklahoma and in 1796 he established a trading post on the shores of the Grand River, near present-day Salina.

But there were other suggestions too. Among them were Oklahoma Roosevelt Lake, Will Rogers Lake, Tulsahoma Lake, Wiley Post Lake and even Electric Power Lake. In the end though, this 46,500 surface acres of water, impounded by the brand-new Pensacola Dam would become the Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.  The rest, as they say, is 80 years of history.

This is just one small story in the ongoing celebration of Pensacola Dam’s 80-year history. We look forward to sharing more with you in the weeks and months to come.

GRDA is Oklahoma’s state-owned electric utility; fully funded by revenues from electric and water sales instead of taxes. Each day, GRDA strives to be an “Oklahoma agency of excellence” by focusing on the 5 E’s: electricity, economic development, environmental stewardship, employees and efficiency.