Is Capes Dam A Local Landmark?

I am very excited to see what we’ll learn from this. In the middle school debates, both schools voted to keep the dam without even considering the historical significance of the landmark…

Guest column by, Dava Flowers

I am currently a junior at San Marcos HS and I am thrilled to share my enthusiasm over a landmark San Marcos. As one of the longest inhabited areas in the US, we can all agree that the history of San Marcos is rich and interesting. One of the earliest establishments of our town lies on our river; Cape’s Dam.

My passion for the dam was sparked after a middle school debate a little over three years ago. The students were tasked by the city to reach a conclusion on whether the dam should be removed or restored. Fortunately, the grade incentive gave me much more motivation to dive into the deep waters of the internet… and become interested in things that I might not have been before.

Our schools had debated the pros and cons of dam removal extensively. Our main points of focus were on the habitat of the river, recreational potential of the area, safety, and the economic impact Cape’s Dam could make. Sadly, the history of the structure was never discussed! This is why I write to you today.

As it turns out, Cape’s dam can help to explain how early San Martians utilized technology in the first industrial movement of Hays county. The construction of the dam in 1867 extended the slough in order to power a gin. The railroad did not reach San Marcos until around 1880.

Because of this, people needed mills because it helped them to do things like power a cotton gin, cut lumber or rock, or to grind grain into flour.

After its construction, commerce in the area grew because of these commodities. San Marcos had nearly a dozen mills during this time. The dam was actually constructed as a weir. This means that the dam did not greatly affect the water flow in the main channel and the gins downstream were powered effectively.

It was created using an already existing slough that fosters three islands. Nowadays, we know these as Thompsons islands, named after the lands original owner; William Alexander Thomson.

Cape’s Dam got its name from its subsequent owner; John Matthew Cape. At its highest potential, the millrace could power a city park… using water power. I love to imagine the types of things we could create with this kind of technology.

In 1985, the National Park Service decided that Cape’s Dam and the millrace were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2018, the topic of its recognition is back up for discussion. I am very excited to see what we’ll learn from this. In the middle school debates, both schools voted to keep the dam without even considering the historical significance of the landmark.

The land owner at the time requested that Cape’s Dam not be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, the Texas Historical Commission still deems Cape’s Dam eligible to be listed!

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter on Cape’s Dam. I hope you have found interest in this San Marcos treasure, as I have.

The fate of Cape’s Dam is important, but the debate should not influence the decision at hand: Does Cape’s Dam deserve to be recognized as a historical landmark for the beginning of our community? …I believe so.


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    1. Why? They keep claiming that the water level won’t be effected with removal and don’t seem to worry that US Fish altered federal documents and lied on the survey of capes Dam to state and federal agencies. It doesn’t belong to SMRF, it belongs to the residents of the city.

    2. The San Marcos River Foundation does many great things to protect and preserve the river, but that would be a terrible mistake in regard to Cape’s Dam. The foundation’s leadership has wanted to remove the dam and have been very outspoken in their effort to accomplish this. Cape’s Dam and Thompson’s Islands should be overseen by people and an organization that appreciate it historic significance and want it highlighted.

  1. There is so much beautiful history on our rivers! Educating the community about our river is something that landmark status would help with, I think. I want to know more!

    1. Here is Kate Johnson’s speech to the Historical Commision. She is chair of the Hays County Historical Commision.

      “My name is Kate Johnson and I am the Chair of the Hays County Historical Commission.

      I am here this evening to ask you to include the preservation of the Capes Dam and Ditch Engineering Structure in your 2017 Goals and Objectives.

      As you are most likely aware, the dam, mill race and other associated features were nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 as a historic district The nomination was approved by the THC and the National Park Service, but one private property owner objected – thus preventing it’s official listing.

      I’m certain you would agree that your first goal to identify and prioritize historic resources should certainly include all of those properties eligible for the National Register. The THC has formally stated Capes Dam remains eligible.

      Your second stated goal to expand the protection of historic resources should include the resources along the San Marcos River, the very lifeblood of the city.

      Cape’s Dam fulfills your objective to fill in the gaps in existing districts. Built in 1867, it is the last surviving example of San Marcos’ earliest industrial development. At one time, the San Marcos River was lined with dams that milled wheat and corn to feed its people; milled lumber and shingles to house them; and ginned cotton to provide the first cash crop for the area. The river provided the earliest economic development for the city – even before the arrival of the railroad.

      Today, the river continues to provide recreation and tourism. And even Cape’s Dam and its mill race continue to contribute to this economic development by providing a pathway for canoers and swimmers.

      Finally, Cape’s Dam also contributes to your third goal to promote historic preservation through outreach and education. The support of preservation organizations for saving Cape’s Dam have included the San Marcos Heritage Association, the Hays County Historical Commission, the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Rivers Protection Association, and the Texas Historical Commission. It has also raised awareness and led to historic dams statewide being listed on the Most Endangered Places by Preservation Texas.

      The Hays County Historical Commission applauds this commission for its new vision and we are prepared to help in any way possible to help you implement your preservation plan.

      Thank you for your time tonight and for serving our community.”

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