Promoting the idea

Aug 19, 2020

Pensacola Dam, under construction in 1939. Long before the project could get to this point, the idea of a dam across the Grand River was shared and promoted all across the region by individuals who understood the many benefits it would provide.


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

As we continue to celebrate Pensacola Dam’s 80th birthday in 2020, we’re taking the opportunity to look back on some interesting facts, figures and individuals that have played a role in the dam’s existence and service to Oklahoma over the years. This week, we look back on the efforts to promote the idea of a dam, not only in Oklahoma but all the way to the nation’s capital.

In the past, we have shared information on the “Rainbow Chasers” group, including Owen Butler and Clay Babb (Grove) and George Schaefer and Jack Rorschach (Vinita), who traveled several times to Washington, D.C., at their own expense to promote the idea of the dam. While that trip was usually made in Owen Butler’s Chevrolet, they were able to go at least once by train, when funds were a little more generous. On another trip, the group traveled to Memphis to meet with the United States Army Corps of Engineers and also met with Governor Marland in Ponca City to secure his support for the project.

While they were doing all that, the idea of the dam was also making newspaper headlines across the region. Long before construction ever began, much had been written about the Pensacola Dam.

In his book, A History of the Grand River Dam Authority, longtime GRDA Consulting Engineering W.R. Holway recalled it this way: “The project was kept before the mind of the public by gatherings where speeches were made, by newspaper stories, and even by publicity stunts like the big illuminated sign at the Vinita Depot when the President of the United States was passing through. It told him that he was very near the site of the ‘Grand River Dam – a $20,000,000 Project’.”

Of course, it would all become a reality in just a few short years, but in the late 1930s, the idea of the dam was kept alive, and promoted, in meetings, in newspaper headlines, on signboards and in many other ways by the residents of the area. Today, their efforts continue to benefit that same area.

GRDA is Oklahoma’s largest public power utility, funded by revenues from electric and water sales. GRDA strives to be an “Oklahoma agency of excellence” by focusing on the 5E’s: electricity, economic development, environmental stewardship, employees and efficiency.