Hays County SWCD Announces Support For Preserving Cape’s Dam

Hays County SWCD Announces Support For Preserving Cape’s Dam

By, Terra Rivers, Managing Editor

The Hays County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) has announced their support for Cape’s Dam and the Mill Race and has encouraged the City Council to provide Cape’s Dam with a local historical landmark status on the basis that the Mill Race and Cape’s Dam allowed farmers to survive and thrive.

In September 2018, the San Marcos Historic Preservation Commission voted to submit a petition on behalf of the City of San Marcos to designate Thompson/Capes Dam and Ditch Engineering Structure as a local historic landmark.

The structure has been eligible for the National Register of Historic Places since 1985 and is considered significant to the history of San Marcos; it was originally built by William Alexander Thompson over 150 years ago.

The Commission voted on October 8, 2018, to approve a recommendation to City Council and Planning and Zoning for the designation to be approved.

However, in November, the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission voted to deny the designation.

Commissioner Ramirez said her reason for denying the designation was she did not feel it was the commission’s place to designate a manmade structure in the San Marcos River as a historic landmark. 

According to SWCD, the Mill Race serves as a connection and reminder of San Marcos and Hays County’s agricultural past.

From a historic agricultural standpoint, the SWCD said they would like to remind the public and the San Marcos City Council of the agrarian history of the San Marcos area, where a gin and mill were operated, bringing prosperity to the area; some of the oldest water rights in the county fall just behind Cape’s Dam.

Hays County SWCD Treasurer and former Hays County Agricultural Extension Agent, Cliff Caskey said, “We know what we have, a historically significant dam, that serves as a reminder to the history of the San Marcos area. So, let’s keep it.”

According SWCD, all of its members agree that one of the first aspects that come to mind when the topic of protection of Cape’s Dam is brought up is the cost of removal and the unintended consequences that will follow removal regarding the Mill Race.

Josh Storm, Chairman of the Hays County SWCD said that, “It is the request of the Hays County SWCD that Cape’s Dam be left in place, which would sustain water flow down the Mill Race, reduce ongoing bank erosion, in turn preserving habitat for aquatic species and restore the historic integrity of the property, which was determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.”

The Soil and Water Conservation District is a subdivision of state government and is a board of five local agricultural, landowner representatives from specific areas of the county. Members are elected by their fellow landowners.

“Cape’s Dam is a historic structure that has been in place for 150 years; throughout this time, there has been habitat created for potentially threatened and endangered species such as Texas Wild Rice and Fountain Darter,” Storm said. “Removal of the dam will destroy this habitat and cause a situation where erosion will occur thereby creating a dangerous situation for recreational use by the community. In addition, repair of this structure would be significantly less costly to the county and its taxpayers.”

The Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board is a state agency that administers Texas’ soil and water conservation law and coordinates conservation.

For more information about the Hays County Soil and Water Conservation District’s position on Cape’s Dam, you can email the SWCD at hayscounty@swcd.texas.gov.

Hays County Soil and Water Conservation District’s letter of support joins several other organizations official support of the efforts of preserving the structure.

In October 2017, the Hays County Historical Commission released a letter giving their official support. The San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce took a stand on the issue in June 2017, and Texas Senator Donna Campbell sent a letter on September 27, 2018, to the San Marcos Historic Preservation Commission encouraging them to designate the structure a historic landmark. And in April of 2017, the Texas River Protection Group sent a letter of recommendations against the removal of Cape’s Dam to the City of San Marcos City Council. 

The designation of a local historic landmark for Cape’s Dam will go before the San Marcos City Council at Tuesday’s, January 29, meeting. 


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  1. Jordan Buckley

    Thompson did not build the original mill-race structure; the numerous families he enslaved did that. Likewise, “SWCD said they would like to remind the public and the San Marcos City Council of the agrarian history of the San Marcos area, where a gin and mill were operated, bringing prosperity to the area” — let’s remind SWCD that hundreds of people enslaved, working for free under the threat of violence, may also have played a tiny role in bringing prosperity to the area (or at least prosperity for white enslavers, like the Thompson clan)

    1. Brian Olson


      I have heard others in the past mention that and according to my knowledge that is inaccurate regarding the salves. As you know some people print things up without looking into more info before claiming things to be fact.

      One thing we know for sure is that
      President Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to slaves in Confederate states, on New Year’s Day in 1863. You will find online that news did travel a little slow to some areas of the south and lasted maybe another year or two.

      Capes Dam was started late of 1866 or early 1867.

      Did Thompson’s have slaves prior? Yes he did. But In all the research regarding the Capes Dam/Mill Race with the National Register of Historic Places and Texas Historical Commission, I have not seen any documentation to claim slaves were involved extending the Left Channel or slough to become a mill race.

      I will look again to confirm but wanted to point that out. By all means I’m not a historian but the dates don’t match up to your claim that Capes Dam was built by Slaves.

      I do know there was an old slave cabin that was bought by a gentleman in Houston that plan to restore the cabin and donate it to a museum.

      Anyways hope that helps at least from another perspective!

      1. Jordan Buckley

        Hi Brian, I can send you the documents. I did the research this weekend at the library; I’ll share my findings tonight at the Public Hearing. For what its worth, I do not have a position on Cape’s Dam — just the way people are remembering the history and excluding the whole Thompson-was-a-nasty-slaver piece of all this

    2. Kim Thomas

      Jordan you use the words…may have. You make no positive statement of assertion. Is this a guess on your part. Here I could say my Irish ancestors may have been used to build this and treated worse than their African counterparts. It is all in the past and using statement such as that have no bearing on the future or of the people alive today. Move on and work on how to make the country a place where people work together instead of trying to divide on what “…may have”, happened

    3. Kim

      Jordan, sorry I didn’t see your reply with your research, but the later half of my comment about it being in the past and has nothing to do with goes on today. There is bad history every where in this country of the use of people from other countries that worked in slavery, there was not just one race alone. We should not make issues of the past be relevant to today and to the future and seemingly to bring such to the forefront has been used and is used as measure to divide and subvert. Let the past remain so and preserved in books for remembrance.

  2. Jordan Buckley

    Hi Brian,
    Hays County irrigation records indicate that in 1852 (13 years prior to Juneteenth’s emancipation of enslaved Texans) people enslaved by the Thompson clan dug the ditch that would become the mill race: 1,850-feet long, 10-feet wide & 3-feet deep.

    Or, read Kathryn Thompson Rich’s account; she’s a direct descendant of William Thompson. She writes in “Thompson’s Islands: On The San Marcos River in Hays County” (found in the “Thompson Plantation” folder in the Hays Co history collection at SMPL, pg 3): “A ditch was built to channel the water to the mill by the manpower of slave ‘hands’ who rhythmically chanted as they plied their strength with pick and shovel to carve out the ditch.”
    And then she affirms the measurements recorded by the Hays Co Irrigation Records.

    I’m fairly new to town; kind of shocked with all the controversy around Cape’s Dam for so long that no one has spotlighted the role of Thompson’s enslavement in all this.


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