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Burnet, Texas

Old Bluffton Underwater Ghost Town

This underwater old Texas hill town only resurfaces during harsh drought. 

Old Bluffton, about an hour northwest of Austin, Texas, was a pitstop on a stagecoach line in the mid-1800s. One of the first towns in the Texas Hill Country, it was home to 50 families and the land was rich with pecan orchards and cornfields. Before it became an underwater ghost town.

When the New Deal was pushed into effect, the Buchanan Dam was one of the projects to be completed, bringing electricity to the Hill Country. Families slowly began to prepare for the rising waters, selling their land to the Lower Colorado River Authority. After the dam was completed in 1937, officials thought that it would take years for the lake to form, but flood and rainfall in excess of 20 inches caused the waters to rise to capacity in mere months. Some residents weren’t able to completely vacate themselves from the area before the waters covered Old Bluffton.

Today, the massive, manmade Lake Buchanan covers the ruins of Old Bluffton, which are usually submerged under 30 feet of water.

A new Bluffton was established seven miles west of its watery predecessor, and remains a tiny unincorporated community of Llano County with only 269 residents as of 2011. Most forgot about Old Bluffton — that is until a drought hit Texas in 1984.

The waters of Lake Buchanan receded to reveal parts of Old Bluffton. However, it was swallowed back up after a series of storms relieved the area. In 2009, a much more severe drought dropped water levels of the lake to 26 feet, allowing the small town to resurface long enough for the Texas Historical Commission’s archeological division to excavate the town.

The water preserved many parts of the town. Visitors flocked to the site to see tombstones and graveyards, the remains of a cotton gin, homes, a local bank, and a hotel. It’s a bit of a trek down the lake’s peninsula to reach Old Bluffton, but the Vanishing Texas River Cruise made it easier for curious adventurers to explore the lost town. Just don’t try to take any of the artifacts as a keepsake—it’s illegal to remove any pieces from this underwater graveyard.

As of 2016, Old Bluffton has dipped below Lake Buchanan’s waves yet again. Heavy rains over this past year brought the lake back up to almost 99 percent capacity. While Old Bluffton may be a fascinating treasure, many people hope that the high lake levels persist, keeping the old town hidden underwater.

Know Before You Go

When water levels are low enough at Lake Buchanan, you can see the remains of Old Bluffton on Bluffton Peninsula. You can ride the trail by mountain bike. There are also history cruises that take visitors to the site.