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Millwood Dam and Lake

Millwood Dam, which impounds Millwood Lake on the Little River, was constructed between 1961 and 1966 at a cost of $46.1 million as part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) project to control flooding on the lower Red River, into which the Little River empties near the town of Fulton (Hempstead County). The lake created by the dam spills across the borders of four counties—Sevier, Little River, Howard, and Hempstead—and provides a variety of recreational opportunities for southwestern Arkansas. The 3.3-mile-long, earthen Millwood Dam is the longest of its kind in Arkansas.

Millwood Dam, located east of Ashdown (Little River County), was made possible by the federal Flood Control Act of 1946, though opposition within the state and from neighboring states delayed the project. Within Arkansas, Dierks Forests, Inc., faced the loss of 6,465 acres of land in an area that would become the reservoir, while Ideal Cement Company of Okay (Howard County) initially objected on the basis of its quarries potentially being flooded; a USACE proposal to build a $2.5 million levee with pumps to protect the plant, along with plans to relocate a railway servicing the plant, allayed the resistance of the latter. However, the Little River Valley Improvement Association maintained its objections, especially the point that the dam would be sited in profitable bottomland, used for both farming and lumber, rather than hillier areas upstream, and that it would leave too little free-flowing water for the development of industry in the area. In addition, the governments of Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma argued about who had the right to dam the tributaries of the Red River, while the government of Louisiana expressed concern that Millwood Dam would hinder a navigation project on the lower Red River.

No real progress was made until 1956, when the deadlock was broken at a meeting of the Red River Valley Association. Congressman Oren Harris presented a plan whereby the proposed dam was reduced in size by twenty-five percent and redesigned to provide a stable water supply as well as flood control. A provision was made for the construction of smaller dams elsewhere in the Little River basin, three in Oklahoma and three in Arkansas, making Millwood Dam the centerpiece of a seven-dam system. The compromise was accepted and written into the Flood Control Act of 1958.

Construction began in September 1961, though ground was not formally broken at the dam site until June 18, 1962. Millwood Dam was completed four years later and formally dedicated on December 8, 1966. The dam rises eighty-eight feet above the streambed and impounds a 29,200-acre lake. Timber was left alone within a one-mile stretch of the dam, thus providing an ideal habitat for numerous varieties of fish—especially bass, for which Millwood Lake is famous. Within the lake are 20,000 acres of submerged timber, which provides habitat to numerous species of fish, birds, and mammals. Millwood Lake provides drinking water to a number of nearby communities, including Texarkana (Miller County). Companies such as Domtar, a paper and pulp mill, use water from the lake for their operations. Millwood State Park is located on the south shore of the lake.

For additional information:
Burrow, Mike. “Millwood Dam May Well Be a ‘Gold Mine.’” Arkansas Gazette. March 27, 1966, p. 5E.

“Millwood Dam Most Costly of the Little River Project.” Arkansas Gazette. December 19, 1966, p. 2A.

Millwood Lake. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District. http://www.swl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Lakes/MillwoodLake.aspx (accessed May 10, 2013).

Guy Lancaster
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 5/10/2013

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