The Brazos River Authority built the DeCordova Bend Dam roughly 50 years ago, but the legacy of the man behind the name has lived on long before.
Jacob Raphael De Cordova. Texas land agent. Colonizer. Texas Legislator. Author. Entrepreneur. Namesake of the dam that creates the Brazos River Authority’s Lake Granbury.
Jacob Raphael De Cordova’s legacy lives on throughout the Brazos River basin and the Lone Star State. It is a legacy of love for Texas, traveling extensively across the state, including the frontier western areas, purchasing and acquiring large tracts of land to sell to settlers after boasting of all
the area’s many benefits.
“Standing about 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighing around 165 pounds, Jacob De Cordova was handsome, ready with a smile and a jest,” according to the book, “Jacob DeCordova, Land Merchant of Texas,” by James M. Day, director of State Archives, Texas State Library, and produced by the Heritage Society of Waco in April 1962. “His cosmopolitan wit made him a great favorite among the early-day Texans. Most of them had never seen another man like this. He was a polished mimic, an actor in his charming stories and an orator who could enthrall every audience.”
‘First recorded braggart’
DeCordova Bend Dam and Lake Granbury saw the first hints of construction by the BRA in December
1966. Both were complete by September 1969 at what was called DeCordova Bend, a curve in the Brazos River, six miles southeast of the town of Granbury in southern Hood and west-central Johnson counties.
But what made De Cordova so special that a bend in the mighty Brazos River was named for him and subsequently the dam that created Lake Granbury?
“About 110 years ago the Manchester (England) Guardian received a letter full of brags about a ‘noble country, abounding in natural resources and offering to European emigrants everything they can desire.’ The ‘noble country’ was Texas, and the first recorded braggart of Texas was Jacob De Cordova,” reads a March 28, 1961 article in the Hood County Tablet.
The reservoir created by the 16-gate dam provides water for municipalities, industries, agriculture, and mining. Its namesake, who died roughly 100 years prior, was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, the youngest of three sons of Judith and Raphael De Cordova, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
The De Cordova family originated in Spain, where Gonsolvo de Cordova, a noted Spanish general, had been knighted in the 15th Century for saving King Ferdinand’s life by catching a dart by hand, according to Day’s book. The Jewish family was eventually forced from their native land because they would not convert to Christianity.
De Cordova’s mother died at his birth in 1808, and he was reared by an aunt in England, where he became proficient in English, French, Spanish, German, Hebrew and some Indian dialects. De Cordova later joined his father in Philadelphia, where he met and married
Rebecca Sterling in 1826.
In 1832, Andrew Jackson was elected to his second term as President of the United States, and a cholera epidemic hit Philadelphia. De Cordova, who often wrote letters about his poor health, returned to Jamaica, where he started a newspaper, the Kingston Daily Gleaner, with his brother Joshua. In early 1836, De Cordova again returned to the states, landing in New Orleans, where he shipped cargoes of staples to Texas during its struggle for independence, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
Eye on Texas
“After the battle of San Jacinto in April, 1836 made Texas an independent Republic and opened trading opportunities with the United States, New Orleans businessmen at once entered into commercial relationships with the new nation,” according to Day’s book. “One of the first merchants to take advantage of the favorable situation was Jacob De Cordova.”
De Cordova finally settled in Texas in 1839, six years before Texas became the 28th state to be added to the Union. He lived in several areas across the state, first in Galveston, and later in Houston, where he served two years on the city council.
He was elected a state representative to the Second Texas Legislature in 1847 though lost the reelection for a second term.
“De Cordova was a dreamer of large dreams, a planner and builder,” according to Day’s book. “He was equally at home in the life and doings of a great city, or with a surveying crew at some desolate forks of the creek.”
He was on his way to becoming a land merchant on the Texas frontier.
There wasn’t much demand for land in Texas in 1845, but in seeing that it would one day become valuable and with the belief Texas would soon become a part of the United States, De Cordova opened one of the largest land agencies the state was ever to know, according to Day’s book.
He traveled the frontier of the Lone Star State, seeing much of Texas firsthand by horseback. He purchased large amounts of land that he later sold to settlers and, at the urging of his wife, De Cordova reserved free sites for schools and churches.
He worked to attract settlers to Texas through passionate speeches in New York, Philadelphia and to the cotton-spinners association in England. His lectures were published on both sides of the Atlantic, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
De Cordova and two other men laid out the town of Waco in 1848–49, and in 1850, he was among the men that helped make Waco the county seat of McLennan County, which had been organized six months prior.
De Cordova wrote numerous influential books that helped attract settlers to the state, including The Texas Immigrant and Traveller’s Guide Book (1856), and Texas, Her Resources and Her Public Men (1858). He wrote the first attempt at an encyclopedia of Texas. Along with his brother, he published two early Texas newspapers, the Texas Herald (also known as De Cordova’s Herald and Immigrant’s Guide) out of Houston and the Southwestern American out of Austin. The latter was at the solicitation of Governor Peter H. Bell, which helped to pass the Compromise of 1850, resulting in a $10 million payment to Texas for adjusted boundaries after annexation, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
When he died on January 26, 1868, at age 60, he was buried in a cemetery near Kimball’s Bend in Bosque County. However, in 1935, with the family’s permission, his body and that of his wife were moved to the State Cemetery, which is located in the eastern part of Austin on land that was formerly the property of Andrew Jackson Hamilton.
He was survived by five children.
The De Cordova Bend in the Brazos River south of Fort Worth, and the De Cordova Bend Dam that impounds Lake Granbury, were both named for him. The De Cordova Bend was created by a 27-mile loop in the Brazos River that enclosed 6,000-acres of fertile land that at the time the reservoir was being built was planted entirely in pecans, peaches and other crops. The area was owned by the O.P. Leonard family of Fort Worth, according to the book, ‘The Waters of the Brazos,’ by Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr.
The $17 million reservoir, ultimately named Lake Granbury, and the DeCordova Bend Dam were dedicated at 3:30 p.m. June 19, 1970, with a formal address by then Governor Preston Smith. The formal dedication was immediately followed by a barbecue supper and music by the Granbury High School Band.
In Day’s book, he writes, “I traveled the Brazos River from De Cordova Bend, now owned by the Leonard Brothers of Fort Worth, to Waco. This was De Cordova Country, and I learned to love it as much as he did. It is easy to see why he chose to spend his last years in the Brazos Valley.”