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
River Dam Authority to provide electric service in 24 counties, plus businesses both in and outside
the State of Oklahoma.
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.
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
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
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.”
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.