Happy 100th Birthday, Medina Dam

In the lab this month are three architectural drawings from 1910 – 1912, made in preparation for the construction of the Medina Dam near San Antonio.  Like many oversize materials, these drawings were rolled and required humidification and flattening for archival storage.

Two of the maps are hand-drawn on starch-coated linen.  The largest of these maps is 34” x 70”, making good use of the lab’s custom-made tables.

Medina Dam Plans - Linen

Hand-drafted plans for the Medina Dam on linen after flattening.


The third map, a 33” x 60” blueprint, required some additional work to remove previous tape repairs and mend numerous tears.

Medina Dam Blueprint

Blueprint of Medina Dam after flattening, tape removal, and mending tears.

The Medina Dam was built to control flooding and provide farmland irrigation in the Texas Hill Country, where water rights continue as a major issue in the present day (see the exhibit “Water in Texas,” currently on display in TSLAC’s lobby.)  The dam’s development group, the Medina Irrigation Company, also hoped to establish new towns and sell farmland based on irrigation improvements.  Much of the project’s funding actually came from British capital, an arrangement that became problematic with the outbreak of World War I in 1914.  With access to British funding limited and the Medina Irrigation Company in jeopardy, project leader Fred Pearson set out for England to make a personal appeal.  Unfortunately, Pearson sailed aboard the Lusitania in 1915, when it was sunk by German submarines in a major international incident that eventually helped spur American entry into WWI.  The troubled Medina Dam assets were eventually sold in 1950 to a local water district, which retains ownership today.

The dam and the resulting Medina Lake were promoted as tourism destinations in the 1920s and beyond, as seen in a hand-colored postcard from the period.

Medina Dam Postcard, 1920s

Hand-colored Medina Dam tourism postcard from the 1920s. Image and much of the preceding historical information courtesy “The Edwards Aquifer Website,” http://www.edwardsaquifer.net/medina.html

As tourism in the area continues, Texas Highways magazine commemorated the 100th anniversary of Medina Dam in its June 2012 issue, which gives us this charming account:

When Medina Lake was being constructed, there was a gravel toll road (built by an industrious landowner) leading from FM 471 to the construction site. Sightseers from San Antonio would travel up FM 471 in Packard touring cars and stop at a little rock house at the intersection, where a monkey wearing a tiny hat would come out and collect the tolls. The toll road was eventually paved and became FM 1283.

So happy 100th birthday, Medina Dam.

Medina Dam Tree

The folksy 1901 floodmarker referenced in this design (see first photo) likely ceased to offer useful information once Medina Lake filled.