Historical Vignette 077 - Kennedy Dedicated a Corps of Engineers Project

John F. Kennedy Dedicated a Corps of Engineers Project Shortly Before His Death 

On October 3, 1963, President John F. Kennedy joined Corps officials and Arkansas political figures to dedicate the Greers Ferry Dam near Heber Springs in the north central part of the state. It was one of his last major public appearances before his assassination.

 President Kennedy arriving at the Greers Ferry Dam dedication
 Motorcade carrying the president to the dedication site

Greers Ferry Dam was authorized as part of the White River Basin Flood Control Plan in 1938. The Corps broke ground for the dam and reservoir on the Little Red River, a tributary of the White, in June 1957, but major construction started in 1959. The Little Rock District completed construction of the concrete-gravity dam in 1962. Two hundred forty-three feet high and 1,704 feet long, the dam created a flood control reservoir nearly fifty miles long and contained a powerhouse for two hydroelectric generators. To accommodate the expected visitors, the district built recreational facilities.


Clockwise from upper left: Col. Charles D. Maynard showing the president Greers Ferry Dam; Col. Maynard (left) and Brig. Gen. Carroll H. Dunn (right) show the president a model of the Corps' Dardanelle Lock and Dam; President Kennedy moving to the speakers' platform; Dignitaries joining the president on the platform with Greers Ferry Dam in the left background.

In his speech, the president acknowledged, “…pound for pound, the Arkansas delegation in the Congress of the United States wields more influence than any other delegation of any of the other 49 states.” On the podium with the president were Arkansas’ two distinguished senators, J. William Fulbright and John L. McClellan, Congressmen Wilbur Mills, in whose district the dam was located, Oren Harris, and E.C. “Took” Gathings—all powerful members of Congress. Kennedy noted that Mills had just helped the administration pass an important tax bill. According to the president, the New York Times said, “if Congressman Mills suggested it, that the president would be glad to come down here and dedicate this dam and sing ‘Down By The Old Mill Stream’… and I would be delighted.”

On a more serious note, President Kennedy challenged “those people who say it is pork barrel, what is much more wasteful—a multi-purpose project which can be used by all of our people—which is more wasteful, to fail to tap the energies of that river, to let that water flood, to deny this chance for the development of recreation and power, or to use it and to use it wisely? Which is more wasteful—to let the land wash away, to let it lie arid or to use it and use it wisely and to make those investments which will make this a richer state and country in the years to come?”

Also on the platform with President Kennedy were Lt. Gen. Walter K. Wilson, Jr., Chief of Engineers; Brig. Gen. Carroll H. Dunn, Division Engineer of the Southwestern Division; and Col. Charles D. Maynard, District Engineer of the Little Rock District. Less than two months later the young, charismatic president died from an assassin’s bullet.


At the lunch following the speech, Lt. Gen. Wilson talks with President Kennedy
and Sen. John L. McClellan (left) and Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus (far left); President Kennedy
greeting the crowd after his speech; Kennedy leaving the ceremony.

Below: Cover of the official program of dedication ceremonies for Little Rock District's Greers Ferry Dam.

The Office of History extends special thanks to Judy Bullwinkle, librarian and historical program manager of the Little Rock District, and Toby Isbell, visual information specialist in the Little Rock District,
for their timely assistance and photo preparation.

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November 2003