The Sam Rayburn Project is located on the Angelina River, the major tributary of the Neches River, approximately 10 miles northwest of the town of Jasper, in the heart of the piney woods region of Southeast Texas. Authorized by Congress in 1955 for the purposes of flood control, hydroelectric power generation, and conservation of water for municipal, industrial, agricultural, and recreational uses as the second element of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers development plan for the Neches River Basin, construction of the dam was begun in 1956, with deliberate impoundment of water beginning in March, 1965, and conservation pool level, (elevation 164.4ft, mean sea level), being initially reached in 1968.
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Total construction costs, including those for recreation facilities, were estimated at approximately $66 million dollars. When construction of the dam began the project was known as “McGee Bend Dam and Reservoir”, because of its’ location immediately upstream from McGee Bend on the river. In September, 1963, the 88th Congress adopted a special resolution changing the name to “Sam Rayburn Dam and Reservoir”, in honor of the recently deceased Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Sam Rayburn, a long-time champion of soil and water conservation. Dedication ceremonies were held on May 8, 1965, with President Lyndon B. Johnson delivering the principal address by telephone from the White House. This event is commemorated by a dedication plaque mounted on a Texas red granite monument, located at the overlook near the powerhouse, adjacent to Recreation Road 255.
The dam thus constructed is an approximately 17,230 ft. long earth embankment, with concrete combined power intake and flood control outlet works located near the west abutment. As initially designed, excess water release was accommodated by a 2,300 ft. concrete weir uncontrolled spillway, located approximately 7,000 feet west of the main embankment. Later studies indicated the need for a different spillway design so as to prevent erosion in the event of water release, so between 1994 and 1996 a 640 ft. labyrinth weir spillway (with stilling basin), was constructed at the same location and with the same crest elevation, (176.00 ft., m.s.l), as the original spillway. Cost of the new spillway totaled approximately $38 million dollars.