Lake Sam Rayburn

Written by Kay Boothe

January 25, 2022

Story by Sarah Naron

Photo Credit :Merry Lamar

Summertime is in full swing here in the Lone Star State, and so, too, is TFH’s exploration of the many lakes that call it home. In the pages of recent editions, we have journeyed to Lake Texoma, which prides itself on being “A Lake for All Seasons;” Lake Livingston, whose depths shroud leftover traces of an ancient Native American civilization; and Canyon Lake, widely referred to as “the Jewel of the Texas Hill Country.” This month, our focus shifts to the Sam Rayburn Reservoir, located in Deep East Texas near the Big Thicket National Preserve.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Sam Rayburn Reservoir was originally known as the McGee Bend Reservoir and has a dam located 80 miles north of Beaumont. Sustained by the Angelina River, Sam Rayburn is surrounded to the north and south by the Angelina National Forest and winds through the counties of Angelina, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Sabine, and San Augustine.

Construction on the lake was initiated in September of 1956 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; water was first impounded in March of 1965. The project cost just under $66 million and was overseen by Paul Hardeman, Inc., of Stanton, CA. The present-day moniker of the lake was bestowed in 1963 as a means of honoring Samuel T. Rayburn, who served as a state legislator, congressman, and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The dedication ceremony held on May 8, 1965, featured a telephone address from President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The spillway crest elevation of the reservoir’s earthfill dam is 176 feet, while its top floor-control pool capacity falls just short of four million acre-feet. Two hydroelectric generators were commissioned by the Sam Rayburn DAm Electric Cooperative in September, and power generation has been taking place since July 1, 1966. In 1979, the cities of Jasper, Liberty, and Livingston joined forces to create the Sam Rayburn Municipal Power Administration. The reservoir covers a drainage area of 3,449 square miles, and its water is used for a variety of purposes, including agricultural and industrial.

Of course, the East Texas landscape which now provides the lake with its home existed long before any digging and damming was ever considered, and some of Angelina County’s present-day residents hold deep connections to the way things were in the past.

Photo Credit :Merry Lamar

Wanda Williams, who lives in the Odell community just outside of Huntington, is descended from a family which once made their home in what is known today as Hanks Creek.

“This is where my grandmother was raised; her maiden name was Robinson,” Williams shared. “The old home place was just a few yards from where my house sits now.”

Williams shared that her great-great-great grandparents relocated to Texas from North Carolina in 1842 and purchased 640 acres of land in present-day Hanks Creek.

“Their last name was Herrington, and a town grew up there called Herrington,” Williams explained. “They even had a post office that was called Sumter. One of his nephews, Joseph Herrington, was the postmaster.”

Located in Jasper, Edenezer Park offers guests the opportunity to explore the natural beauty surrounding the Sam Rayburn Reservoir on horseback. Photo Credit :Merry Lamar

Despite his young age, Joseph Herrington proved to be an integral part of the area’s history, as he played a prominent role in the division of land that formed Angelina and Nacogdoches counties and also served as Angelina County’s first chief justice. Today, a historical marker located near Huntington commemorates the achievements made by Herrington throughout his life.

Also named for the Herringtons is a cemetery located approximately 10 miles south of Huntington on FM 2109.

“The cemetery is an acre from the Blythe Survey, which is part of WIlliam Herrington’s land grant of 1842,” Williams explained. “The earliest grave with a marker in the cemetery is that of Timmy Herrington, born 1871. Legend tells that a family on their way to Hardin County camped near the Herrington house, and one of the children became ill and died and was buried. A large rock was placed on the grave, and people referred to it as the spot where the little child was buried.”

The Herrington Cemetery is located 10 miles southeast of Huntington in Angelina County on FM 2109. The cemetery is an acre from the Blythe Survey, which is part of William Herrington’s land grant of 1842. The earliest grave with a marker in the cemetery is that of Timmy Herrington, born 1871. Legend tells that a family on their way to Hardin County camped near the Herrington house, and one of the children became ill and died and was buried. A large rock was placed on the grave, and people referred to it as the spot where the little child was buried.”

Brenda Shaddox, who also resides in Angelina County, spoke of her close ties to the previously existing community of Zana, ruins of which are speculated to still be below the waters of the Sam Rayburn Reservoir.

“My parents raised me in Lumberton, but I was practically raised there at Zana, because both sets of my grandparents lived there,” Shaddox said. “My dad was born right there where the Zana post office was, and he’s also buried in the cemetery there. So, he came and went on the same hill.”

Photo Credit :Merry Lamar

According to Shaddox, Zana was formed by B.W. Harvey, who has many descendants still residing in San Augustine County near the lake and for whom Harvey Creek was named.

“He got the land in the 1820s in a land grant when they were encouraging settlers in that part of Texas,” Shaddox said. “He’s buried on a little plot of land, right behind where the Zana Post Office sat.”

Another influential gentleman in the establishment of Zana was Shaddox’s great-grandfather, EO Wood, who relocated to the area following the death of his wife, Sarah.

“He moved to that spot to be with Elvira, his second wife,” Shaddox shared. “Instead of starting over as a farmer on a new piece of land, he just started a store and also dabbled in early medicine. I have copies of receipts where he bought different tinctures and mixed things – different salves and different remedies and just odd items that you and I have probably never heard of. Their medicine was, I think, on a wing and a prayer.”

In addition to operating his store, Wood also observed the need for a post office closer to the town, as the muddy roads leading to the closest one caused the journey of a few miles to stretch to nearly an entire day.

“So, they decided that EO could run this post office,” Shaddox said. “After he gave up running the post office – I think he was about 69 or so – his son, the only child that he and Elvira had, ran the post office. His son was William Thomas Wood, and he was my grandfather. He died when I was about five, but I do have some early memories of him. I have hanging in my dining room the big, fancy certificate of him being the postmaster of Zana in 1908.”

Shaddox added that the post office was rather short-lived, closing in 1916. EO and William Thomas were the only individuals to ever hold the title of postmaster in the town of Zana.

Like many of the lakes throughout Texas, the Sam Rayburn Reservoir offers a wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreation to those who visit. The lake is widely known for harboring a plentiful population of catfish, crappie, and largemouth bass. Sunfish are also abundant, and while the numbers of white bass in the lake are less than ideal, many anglers seeking them do have good luck during the spring season. Fishing tournaments are also frequently hosted at the lake throughout the year.

Photo Credit :Merry Lamar

For those looking for a scenic place to spend a few days away from the hustle and bustle of their daily routine, there are many campgrounds located around the lake, as well as rental properties available to groups of various sizes.

Sam Rayburn is home to four marinas – Jackson Hill Marina, Powell Park and Resort Marina, Sam Rayburn Marina Resort, and Shirley Creek Marina. In addition to lodging, guests can access perks such as fishing docks and boat rentals at any of these locations.

Other nearby places offering entertainment for visitors to the Sam Rayburn Reservoir area include golf courses, museums, and nightclubs.

For more information on Lake Sam Rayburn, please visit


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