Explore Oklahoma’s Forgotten Underwater Ghost Town
Just about every time Southwest Oklahoma enters a deep drought, there's a lake north of Altus that gets so low you can explore the remnants of an old ghost town that normally lies beneath the water line. The story is a little odd, but these are the facts.
As the story goes, The town of Lugert was founded on that spot in the mountains in 1901. It was little more than a rural townsite that supplied the area farms with a place to experience small amenities like a general store, post office, and a handful of other essential rural businesses.
In 1912, a tornado came through the area, destroyed most of the town, and that was pretty much the end of that town. Not to say people didn't still live and work there but they weren't in any hurry to rebuild the damaged parts. Some moved away, others stayed, and life went on.
Sometime in the late 1920's, since SWOK is such a drought-stricken place so often, the City of Altus decided to damn up the North Fork of the Red River there in the mountains, right on the doorstep of Lugert. Not only would it provide a reliable water source for the area, Lugert instantly became a destination lake town on the shores of Lake Altus.
A Bridge Not Far Enough For The Dust Bowl
As the region entered the Great Depression and the infamous 1930sDust Bowl, it was apparent that Lake Altus wasn't big enough to be the reliable water source the growing area needed. Needed not only for household living, thirsty SWOK crops like wheat and cotton, plus the added population of the newly constructed Altus Army Corp Airfield (now Altus Air Force Base), that well still ran dry.
Sometime during The New Deal, with so many public works projects were happening in SWOK, someone thought it would be a good idea to raise the height of the Lake Altus dam to obtain a bigger reservoir for the area. A plan was talked about and outlined but then Pearl Harbor dragged the entire country into the second great war.
It wasn't until after WWII that Lugert was all but deserted and nothing stood in the way of progress. Crews added an additional fifty vertical feet to the dam, and the lake swallowed up what was left of the tiny turn-of-the-century boom town.
Now, the larger abundance of water could not only provide for the population of people South in Altus, there was enough to sell farmers water to irrigate their crops. Mainly cotton as is still the case today. The new lake was dubbed Altus-Lugert.
Since then, the lake has grown into one of the hidden gems of Oklahoma. Like most mountain lakes, even though the river is known for its reddish muddy color, the water above the dam is surprisingly clear most of the time. There's a little color for sure, it looks like tea in wet and average rainfall years.
When it's dry and the area succumbs to a deep drought, algae often cast ugly and potentially deadly blooms, but the old townsite once again emerges as water levels drop. Granted, it's mostly foundations, granite stone stem walls, and portions of sidewalks you can still walk around, but it's a neat place to explore alongside the lodge, campgrounds, and the kid's zone we all loved growing up.
If this sounds like a solid day-trip idea to you, believe me, it's cool... directions and a map of the townsite are in the gallery below.