When researching my last article on the Ladonia Square I came across the City of Ladonia website and noticed something interesting on the about section of the city. The second paragraph begins by stating that “The future of Ladonia involves the building of Lake Ralph Hall…” The text goes on to describe how the lake will bring in new economic opportunities to Ladonia, but will it?
I think it is important to look at the history of the last reservoir project in Texas conveniently right up the road from Ladonia at Cooper Lake also known as Jim Chapman Lake, as well as look back at the history of the city of Cooper.
The Cooper Lake Project officially began in 1948 with Congressman Wright Patman requesting a study for a proposed site on the South Sulphur River. The study was completed in 1950. A bill was signed for the Cooper Dam in 1955.
The project was not without snags however, the first of which came in 1957 when it was decided that the original site proposed for the dam would not work and a new site would have to be found 6 miles downstream. Additionally, the original agreement was between the cities of Sulphur Springs, Commerce, and Delta County but by the 1960s the North Texas Municipal Water District and the City of Irving wanted part of the agreement. Issues with permits, pollution control, and lake capacity delayed construction even further.
Construction on the dam did not actually start until 1987 with a formal dedication held at the site on September 28, 1991. Shortly after the dedication the lake was named Jim Chapman after the local congressman. From concept to completion the project took 43 years.
Meanwhile during that same period of time let us look at the city of Cooper. Cooper at the time of the 1940 census had a population of 2,537. Cooper and Delta county was a predominantly rural area with the majority of business focused on farming. Cooper has long served as a shipping hub first for the railroad and then with the construction of better roads in the 1940s by the WPA goods were shipped by highway.
Cooper of the 1970s was primarily focused on agriculture but during the 80s and 90s that would change. The Cooper economy shifted to manufacturing and shipping. By 1991 when the Lake was finished Cooper had over 70 businesses and had a population of 2,153. Over the subsequent years quite a bit of that business has left Cooper. The population has fallen to just under 2,000. According to census data the number of businesses has fallen since 1991. The manufacturing that was a big diver of employment during the 90s has left Cooper though some of that manufacturing has returned in recent years with the arrival of the Textrail trailer plant.
But why consider the outcomes of this past project? The Cooper Lake Project shows that any changes due to Lake Ralph Hall will likely take many years to show results and the city of Ladonia likely won’t transform into a thriving metropolis. History has a tendency towards repeating itself and those pushing the narrative of a magic bullet for local economies would do well to temper expectations and be more realistic about their visions for the future.