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The 1960s: Making Lakes and Becoming Environmental

August 07, 2019

As we celebrate Freese and Nichols' 125th anniversary, this series will chronicle company achievements decade by decade. These posts are based on A Century in the Works, written by Deborah Sizemore and published in 1994.

Freese and Nichols worked to help Texas' river authorities fulfill their mission to control, store, preserve and distribute water during the 1960s. More than a dozen reservoirs were built under the firm's supervision, from relatively modest lakes on the dry Texas plains to giant reservoirs in east and southeast Texas.

Fighting Water Famine

The largest lake engineered by Freese and Nichols​ in the 1960s was in answer to the 1950s drought. Fort Worth had flirted with water famine during the 1950-56 dry spell. When the drought broke in the spring of 1957, Fort Worth had only enough water for eight months' use. 

The drought heightened city leaders' awareness of the limited yield of the upper Trinity River. In 1954, the City of Fort Worth engaged Freese and Nichols to make a two-year study of additional water sources. Of all the possibilities, the outstanding prospect was that of bringing water to Fort Worth from East Texas. In 1956, Freese and Nichols developed a long-term plan proposing projects through the 1980s; the first was to construct a reservoir on Cedar Creek, about 80 miles southeast of Fort Worth.

Cedar Creek Reservoir was completed in 1965 for $19.5 million, and went on to yield 156 million gallons of water per day. The design engineer for its dam was Freese and Nichols associate W. Leary Eeds, a nationally recognized civil engineer who pioneered the development of the gated morning glory spillway in large dams. During his career with Freese and Nichols, Eeds designed and supervised construction of more than 100 dams and reservoirs. He  would die of a heart attack in 1971 at age 58. 

Other Freese and Nichols reservoir projects in the 1960s include Lake E.V. Spence in West Texas for the Colorado River Municipal Water District; and Lake Conroe, north of Houston, a joint project of the San Jacinto River Authority, the City of Houston, and the Texas Water Development Board. 

Cedar Creek Lake, completed in 1965, is a 679,000-acre-foot reservoir southeast of Fort Worth.

Engineers Become Environmental

The 1960s brought a redefining of engineering practice and the engineer’s mission. The term “environmental engineering” entered the professional vocabulary and became the subject of many papers and conferences. In a broader sense, the term was synonymous with civil engineering because it had always been the civil engineer’s job to control or improve the human environment.

The shift to environmental engineering was not a difficult transition for Freese and Nichols. Pollution abatement, the public well-being and wise use of resources had been prime concerns since the firm’s founding.

In 1960, Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy appointed Marvin Nichols to his Natural Resources Advisory Committee. “I am particularly glad to have Marvin Nichols on this Committee, because of his special interest in water resources and particularly hydro-electric power development,” Senator Kennedy said. In discussions with JFK’s chief resources advisers, Nichols focused on the water resources and power problems of Texas and the Southwest.

Hawley Memorial Fund

Twenty years after the death of Major John B. Hawley, Freese and Nichols honored the memory of the firm's founder by establishing the John B. Hawley Memorial Fund of the Texas Section, American Society of Civil Engineers. Income from the initial fund and future contributions would be used to make annual awards for excellence in civil engineering practice. Texas ASCE still awards the annual Hawley Fellowship to this day.

Marvin Nichols: A Friend, A Role Model, A Civil Engineer

People were Marvin Nichols’ hobby, people from all stations of society. He invested a large portion of his time in building and maintaining friendships; and he seldom forgot a birthday or anniversary.

Nichols was also a great role model for not only his younger professional colleagues but to the youths. He served 42 years at the Fort Worth Panther Boys Club, where he made substantial contributions to the club’s building and memorial funds, so the club could improve and expand its service to underprivileged youths. 

In 1964, Nichols received the highest honor given by the Texas Section-ASCE, the “Award of Honor” for outstanding service to his profession. He was the fourteenth Texas engineer to be so recognized in the Section’s fifty-year history. He went on to accumulate many more awards, honors and distinguishable dedications from various professional organizations.

At 72, Nichols remained an active, enthusiastic and esteemed colleague. He would later be hospitalized, on his way to a meeting, and diagnosed with cancer. He continued to work from his hospital bed. Weeks later, Nichols passed away on April 10, 1969. People and publications throughout Texas, the Southwest and even internationally, paid their respects.

Among his many accomplishments, what Marvin Nichols will be best remembered for is his influence on the development of water supplies to meet Texas' present and future water needs. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote, “His death is a reminder to Fort Worth and Texas that they owe him a great deal for their comfort and prosperity now and in the years ahead.”