For Clifton and Bosque County residents, the Bosque River means many things. Foremost, it bears the name of our county, organized in 1854. In Clifton, the Bosque River is our “backyard.” The river was not only the catalyst for the formation of Clifton in 1852, but today is a part of our community heritage and beauty, and even an occasional nemesis.
The Bosque (pronounced Boss-Kee) River is a 115-mile river running through several counties of Central Texas and fed by four primary branches. The North Bosque, which has origins near Stephenville to the northwest, flows through Bosque County and empties into the Brazos River where it is dammed to form Lake Waco some 30 miles to the southeast.
Origins of the river’s name date to 1721, when a Spanish expedition came as near as today’s Waco, and named the tributary flowing into the Brazos River Bosque, which translates in Spanish to “woodsy.”
With the pioneer settlements in what is today’s Bosque County beginning in the mid-1800s, each principal town was colonized along the Bosque River, which was literally the lifeline of the early settlers in Valley Mills, Meridian, and Clifton. In the pioneer days, the river didn’t represent beauty, but survival. Survival came from the water on the Bosque River, and the wildlife and timber which surrounded its banks. Historian William C. Pool, in his definitive history of Bosque County, wrote that because of the Bosque River’s importance, the county was a “waterfront frontier.”
Clifton had its origins on the Bosque River in 1852. It was here that the first settlers congregated and built their homes and businesses. It was here on the river that the “Old Mill” was built after the Civil War, which was the impetus for further development in the community. The first settlers of Clifton built a wooden foot bridge across the Bosque to join pioneers located on both the east and west sides of the river. The first Clifton community was located primarily on the east side, while after 1881, with the building of the railroad, the town gradually migrated to the west of the Bosque River.
The Bosque River has flooded numerous times since the formation of Clifton more than 150 years ago, some of them very nearly destroyed the community. Today, most Clifton resident think of the Bosque River as a great place to cool off, enjoy a dip in its waters, or look for that elusive catfish. The 67-acre Clifton City Park is bordered by the river’s ancient live oaks, cottonwoods, and pecan trees lining the river.
Clifton exists as a result of the Bosque River. And the two will forever be linked one and the same.
Beautiful Lake Whitney, created by the dam on the main stem of the Brazos River and comprising the northeast border of Bosque County, has been a drawing card for tourists and a local favorite for more than half a century. One of the state’s larger man-made lakes, Lake Whitney and Lake Whitney State Park are popular destinations for those who enjoy camping, fishing, or water activities of any kind.
The lake is located near the ruins of the former Towash village, an early Texas settlement inundated by Lake Whitney. Towash was named for the chief of the Hainai Indians, who first settled the area about 1835.
The lake, located 15 miles east of Clifton, is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Funding for the lake and dam project was initially approved by Congress in 1941. But the outbreak of World War II put the project on hold. Actual construction of the dam began in 1947, and was completed in 1951. The lake has 15,760 surface acres and 250 miles of shoreline. Lake Whitney State Park was opened in the 1965 and is 955 acres in size. The park is a popular site for swimming, camping, hiking, picnicking, boating, fishing, water skiing, scuba diving, and birding, among others.
Lake Whitney is a fisherman’s paradise. Whitney is considered one of Texas’ clearest lakes, and the waters host many fish species, including striped and white bass, smallmouth bass and trophy bluefish. For the birding enthusiast, the lake is home to some 200 species of birds; including the wild turkey and bald eagle. The park’s beauty is enhances by tall native grasses, live oaks, post oaks/blackjack oak and cedar. In the springtime, the park blooms with 40 varieties of wildflowers including bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and evening primrose. Common animals found in the park include the white-tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, fox, and even bobcat.
The lake includes 15 campgrounds, 13 boat ramps, restroom facilities with and without showers, picnic sites both with and without shelters, campsites with water and some with shelters; pull-through campsites without shade shelters with water and electricity, a trailer dump station, a group recreation hall with kitchen, and a group camp with a dining hall and eight screened shelters. The park also boasts walking trails and an airstrip.
Camping fees vary and entrance fees are required. Gates at the park are locked at 10 p.m. and opened at 8 a.m. The busy season is March through October and the park is open seven days a week, except during public hunts. For information please call (254) 694-3793 for same-day reservations, or (512) 389-8900 for other reservations. Or visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.