Simpson Lake is located three miles west of Avinger in Cass County, Texas. It is the central element of the Eagle Landing development. This is a short history of Simpson Lake.
Dam and Lake Construction
The present lake was built in the early 1950′s by Rhyne Simpson, Sr., (shown at right) near the time of construction of
Texas Highway 155. He built several other lakes in those years. Lake Rhyne is across the highway from the entrance to Eagle Landing and four other small lakes are on the southwestern side of Avinger. A Caterpillar D-8 tractor and dozer was used to build the dams. It was driven by Gordon “Peanut” Holley of Jefferson. Peanut worked for Rhyne Simpson, Sr., for many years. Throughout his life, Rhyne Simpson maintained a strong interest in water projects. The lakes in the Avinger area are manifestations of him and his interest. He died in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1971 while pursuing his idea of producing electricity from the high tides in the Bay of Fundy. A project to do that was subsequently developed by the provincial and federal governments in 1984 at Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
Simpson Family History
The site of the lake is a large tract of contiguous properties accumulated primarily by Arthur Melton Rhyne (1855-1940) in the early years of the 20th Century. A.M. Rhyne was an owner of farms, timberlands, sawmills and a general merchandise store in Avinger. The present site of Simpson Lake was then known in the family and in Avinger as the Big Farm. Back in the 1920′s, a much smaller lake was built on the property using mule-drawn slips.
A.M. Rhyne came to Avinger from North Carolina in 1859 as a four-year-old boy with his father, Jacob Rhyne (1825-1881) and mother, Susan Cloninger (1829-1879). A.M. Rhyne married Margaret Edwards (1854-1883) in 1881. There was only one child to that marriage – Birdie Rhyne (1883-1957). Birdie married Alvin Von Simpson (1874-1957) in 1903 in Avinger. Alvin had been working as a civil engineer on the conversion of the Louisiana & Arkansas R.R. from narrow-to standard-gauge. This is the railroad which still runs through Avinger from Shreveport and Jefferson to Greenville and Dallas. Rhyne Simpson (1903-1971) was the first child of the marriage of Birdie Rhyne and Alvin Simpson. Only his brother, Rolan Simpson of Tulsa, Oklahoma (b. 1920) survives today. His sister Maud Marie Simpson Salmon (1915-2001) died in January 2001. In her later years Maud Marie lived in the two-story house on Texas Highway 49 in Avinger built in 1926 by her grandfather, A.M. Rhyne, and her parents, Birdie and Alvin Simpson. Maud Marie married William Jack Salmon (1914-1989) of Linden, Texas. Rhyne Simpson married Avis Miller (1905-1985), who was a school teacher in Avinger, of Bullard, Texas in 1927. Phil Simpson (b. 1935) and Rhyne “Mike” Simpson, Jr (b. 1937) are their two sons. Phil Simpson lives in Dallas and Avinger, Texas and Mike Simpson lives in California and New Jersey. Five generations of the Rhyne, Simpson and Salmon families are buried in the Avinger cemetery.
As previously stated, most of the land on which Simpson Lake is located was accumulated by A.M. Rhyne before World War I. However, several outlying tracts were added by Rhyne Simpson and Rhyne Simpson, Jr. in the fifties, sixties and seventies.
The Big Farm
The land around Simpson Lake was originally part of a large forest of pines and hardwoods extending through East Texas. Much of the land was cleared and put into cotton and vegetable farms in the second half of the nineteenth century. This is why the site of the lake was known as the Big Farm. The last cotton was harvested in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. After that time the farmland was allowed to convert back to timber production. The principal crop was timber – primarily native, short-leaf yellow pine and mixed hardwoods. The timber was managed by selective thinning and where necessary, pine seedlings were planted. The planted seedlings were the Loblolly variety. The Loblolly pine has a little longer needle than the native species.
Back in 1926 Maud Marie Simpson Salmon – then eleven years old – drove her grandfather A.M. Rhyne out to the Big Farm in his Model T. While going down a farm road he commanded her to turn right across the plowed cotton furrows. Seeing no road she initially resisted, but then did as she was told and the two of them bumped across the rows. A.M. Rhyne thought that a car that could not go where a horse could go was not worth owning. This incident probably took place in the area of the present landing strip.
Subsequent Lake Development
The lake filled for the first time in the 1950′s, but before timber in the lake bed had been cleared. There were a large number of stumps protruding above the surface of the lake and there were many floating logs. This dead timber was unsightly and a hazard to boat navigation. Originally, Rhyne Simpson thought that the timber would die or rot. After a few years it became evident that this would not happen and so in the late-1960′s the lake was drained to facilitate clearing and burning of the remaining timber and underbrush. This took about a year. The drain under the dam was then closed and the lake rose to its former and present elevation. A year or so after the death of Rhyne Simpson in 1971 and after the refilling of the lake there was a dispute concerning title of a small tract on the north side of the lake. Suit was entered between the Estate of Rhyne Simpson and the claimant and the matter was resolved in favor of the Estate after a trial in a District Court in Linden, Texas in the mid-1970′s.
Eagle Landing Airstrip (Simpson Field)
Clearing for a proposed airplane landing strip was commenced in the late-1960′s and continued into the early-1970′s. It was completed in 1980 and FAA approval was received. It was named Simpson Field. If you are a pilot, it might interest you to know the landing field is located 28 nautical miles on the 8-degree radial from the Gregg County VOR. The FAA identification code is 61TA. and is shown on the Memphis Sectional Chart. The runways are 7 and 25. The common airport advisory frequency is 122.9. Flight following radar services are provided by contacting Longview Regional Airport KGGG. Fuel is available at Gilmer, Longview, and Atlanta airports.
The property upon which Simpson Lake is situated was left to Rhyne “Mike” Simpson, Jr. in the mid-1970′s as part of an overall division of the properties of the Estate of Rhyne Simpson, Sr., after his death in 1971. Mike built a house on the lake in the mid-70’s and lived there until the mid-80’s. In the late 70’s, Mike retained a land planner from Dallas to present alternatives for development of the property. Mike decided on a plan, which several years later, became the basic development plan for Eagle Landing. Mike chose to develop the property with a partner and founded a corporation, Eagle Landing, Inc., with Buck Florence – each owned 50 percent. Eagle Landing, Inc., then acquired the property from Mike. The lake had been home to many bald eagles over the years, so it was natural to name the project Eagle Landing. The name was suggested by Pat Florence, Buck’s wife. After Buck’s death, Mike sold his interest in Eagle Landing, Inc. to the Florence estate.
Real Estate Sales
In the late 70′s the lake was surveyed and lots were partitioned within the development. Real estate sales within Eagle Landing began in the early 80′s. Most of the remaining unsold Eagle Landing lots were auctioned off by the Florence Estate in 2001, and today nearly all Eagle Landing properties are owned by individuals.