- Place That’s All About the Lake
Havens | Grove, Okla.
Published in the New York Times
A Place That’s All About the Lake
Published: December 19, 2008W. C. FIELDS, whose position on water was that he never touched the stuff, would feel supremely left out at Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, which covers 46,500 acres north, south and west of Grove, Okla. Grand Lake, as the locals call it, favors participants over spectators; its boats are big-motored; and the docks that shelter them are tin-roofed and massive.
“The development on Grand Lake is different from some of the other lakes down here regulated by the Corps of Engineers in regard to access to water, where you can place a dock, where you can trim brush,” said Alden Buerge, a banker from Joplin, Mo., who bought a 3,000-square-foot second home near Grove in 2002. “Grand Lake is just much more open. It’s a place to go and have fun on the water.”
There’s no question that Grove, in northeast Oklahoma, is all about Grand Lake, a fishing hot spot full of crappies, catfish and bass. Some of the nation’s top professional fishermen cruised its coves in 2006 and 2007 in the Bassmaster Elite Series’ Sooner Run tournament. But Grand Lake is also home to the casual angler who just wants to jam a chunk of hot dog on a hook in hopes of teasing out a lunker catfish.
Grove is also just two and a half hours away from Branson, Mo., the country music tourist mecca, and that proximity was a lure for the country picker Roy Clark, one of the stars of the television show “Hee Haw.”
“This place filled a lot of things in us we weren’t even aware of,” said Mr. Clark, who lives in Tulsa and has a theater in Branson and a second home in Grove that he bought in 2005. “I can go out my front door and be right on the water, and go out my back door and step onto a championship golf course.”Mr. Clark added: “Our main home’s in Tulsa, and sometimes when we’re here we have mixed emotions, like we’re forsaking our home in Tulsa. But when we’re in Tulsa we say, ‘How long has it been since we’ve been to the lake?’ And we’re right back here again.”
Grove’s location in the south-central United States means that it attracts many second-home buyers from Dallas, St. Louis and Wichita, Kan. — and their far-flung children.
“We did this a lot for the kids and grandkids,” said Gary Sparks, a Tulsa architect, who spent eight months making the 2,500-square-foot Grand Lake home he bought in 2007 for $230,000 more open and water-friendly. “We have kids in Kansas City, and it’s a great middle ground between the families. We’re all water freaks — four of our six grandchildren live in the water — so it’s just perfect.”
The golf courses are getting better in and around Grove, the grape vines are maturing at the local wineries, and sailboats fill the slips at the two yacht clubs. Local residents say they welcome Grove’s transition from an eye-blink into a resort town. What they don’t want, though, is for Grove and Grand Lake to become an extension of Branson and Lake of the Ozarks.
“People want to get away from that hustle and bustle,” said Chuck Perry, a longtime resident and a real estate agent. “And when they do, they come here.”
Away from the lake, it’s not uncommon to see a pasture on one side of the road and a golf-and-new-homes development on the other. The remnants of the old Route 66 run west of town to Tulsa, exciting the nostalgia-seekers.
Living on Grand Lake means being out on the water doing something — fishing, pontooning, water-skiing, Jet-Skiing, tubing, sailing — with only the briefest breaks to run into town for ribs and potato salad. As development continues along the lake’s 1,300 miles of shoreline, Grove is increasingly the hub that second-home residents run to.
“Grove is really a town in transition,” Mr. Perry said.
When the construction of the Pensacola Dam created Grand Lake in 1940, Grove was what Joe Neill, another local agent, called “just a poor, red-dirt town.”
But as demand for lake frontage accelerated over the last decade, Grove morphed into a resort and second-home community. Its badges of gentrification include Gourmet’s, a high-end food and kitchen equipment store, and the Wax Bucket Candle and Gift Shop. There are also good restaurants like Raggedy’s for soup and sandwiches — though the doughnut shop, the corner cafe and the Grand Lake Sports Center (which advertises three types of bait: live, dead and fake) still rule the day.
There are the conversation-minded fishermen who spend November and December sitting on theater chairs in the heated fishing shack at the Four Seasons Resort, owned by Bill and Sharon Davis, and dunking for crappies through a open well in the floor.In over 60 years, our beautiful Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees has never looked better. The rapidly expanding shoreline development, yacht clubs, marinas, luxury resorts and golf courses were but a gleam in the eye of visionaries back in the 1930’s when the idea for construction of Pensacola Dam first appeared.
Today, Grand Lake is Oklahoma’s number one tourist attraction, enticing visitors and residents alike to the pleasures of boating, sailing, fishing, skiing, swimming and scuba diving.
The first hydroelectric system in Oklahoma, Pensacola Dam also provides flood control for the Grand River. Pensacola Dam generates power for the Grand River Dam Authority to provide electric service in 24 counties, plus businesses both in and outside the State of Oklahoma.
While riding herd on his Dad’s cattle about the turn of the century, Henry C. Holderman first envisioned building dams on the Grand River to provide the Cherokee Nation with electricity.
A few years later, he and his brother, Bert, and two engineering students from Spaulding University built a houseboat and floated down the river in search of suitable sites. They were, in fact, the first to complete an engineering survey for the dam. But it was still just a dream. For years, Holderman looked for financing. In fact, as part of a loosely organized lobby group called “the rainbow chaser,” he made a hard trip from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C. to attempt to secure funding for the dam.
Jack Rorschach and George Schaefer of Vinita, along with Clay Babb and Owen L. Butler of Grove, made up the remaining “rainbow chasers.” Then, as now, funding was a function of being at the right place at the right time.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt brought his whistle-stop re-election train tour through Oklahoma, he stopped briefly in Vinita. He had to. You see, in a never-ending attempt to get Presidential attention, George Schaefer managed to get a city ordinance approved in Vinita requiring all Presidential trains to stop in the community if they passed through. The President’s train passed through – and had to stop—by law. It worked. FDR was greeted by a large crowd and a banner strung along the north end of the depot which read, “Let’s Build Grand River Dam.”
The President thanked Vinita for arranging the unscheduled stop, and said he would see what he could do about funding the dam. With the help of U.S. Representatives Wesley E. Disney and W.R. Holway, funding was approved in September, 1937. In October, 1937, engineers Holway and Heufer began surveying and engineering. Massman Construction of Kansas City was the prime contractor, and construction began in December, 1938.
Unbelievably, especially considering the equipment of the day, the dam was completed in 20 months. The final openings in the dam (under arches seven and eight) were closed in March, 1940, and Grand Lake was full by the end of that summer!
The Pensacola Dam remains today a true wonder, and still the largest multiple arch dam in the world, spanning 5,145 feet with 51 arches and 21 spillways. Rising 150 feet above the river bed, the dam holds the waters that form Grand Lake’s 1,300 miles of scenic shoreline, surrounding approximately 60,000 surface acres of water.
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