Robinette, Oregon, before inundation in 1958 by Brownlee Dam (Snake River). Photo from Baker County Library

The Aims of the Atlas

The Atlas of Drowned Towns is a public history project that explores the histories of the dozens of communities in the American West inundated by dam construction in the twentieth century. Massive hydroelectric, irrigation, and flood control dams tower over western rivers, from the Snake and Sacramento to the Columbia and Colorado. Beneath the shadows and underneath the reservoirs of these dams lie the remnants of homelands, towns, villages, and other homes that were displaced or eliminated to make way for twentieth-century ideas of progress. For the broader public as well as policy makers, these disappeared places have passed out of memory and into myth. Recovering the submerged pasts of lost communities will reveal the historical significance of marginalized places in the American West, encourage appreciation of the complexity of such places, and provide lessons for the future of river development and community displacement.

From its initial focus on the Snake River, The Atlas of Drowned Towns will expand first to other western watersheds and then to lost communities elsewhere in North America and beyond.

Who’s Behind the Atlas

The Atlas of Drowned Towns is a public history project led by Bob H. Reinhardt, an associate professor of history at Boise State University. The project has its origins in Bob’s MA thesis from the University of Oregon (2005), later revised and published as Struggle on the North Santiam: Power and Community on the Margins of the American West, (Oregon State University Press, 2020). That thesis and book included a chapter on Detroit, Oregon, a drowned town to which Bob compared another drowned town, Hover, Washington, in a 2011 award-winning article for the Western Historical Quarterly.

Learn more about Bob’s research at his ScholarWorks page: https://works.bepress.com/bob-reinhardt/

The project has received supported from a Digital Projects for the Public Discovery Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a grant from the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University, and a grant from the US Army Corps of Engineers (Federal Award Identification Number W912HZ2220044).

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