White Rock Lake construction began in 1910 when Dallas was experiencing water shortages. The dam and coal-fired pump house, built on White Rock Creek, was completed in 1911. The creek initially ran through undeveloped countryside and farmland and the spring-fed water was pure enough to drink.
The lake filled rapidly and the pure water was pumped directly into city water mains with no filtration or chlorination. It didn’t take long for Dallas citizenry to discover and enjoy the recreational benefits of the newly completed oasis. Human contact; swimming, fishing, duck hunting and even construction of weekend shacks on stilts over the lake were permitted and negatively influenced water quality.
In about 1915, notices began appearing in the Dallas Morning News advising East Dallas residents to boil their tap water before drinking or cooking with it!
The Filter Building and Sedimentation Basins were then constructed in 1922. Water was allowed to flood into the sedimentation basins from the lake where sand, mud and other debris settled out. The water was next allowed to flow through a serpentine channel below the Filter Building where chlorine was added and dissolved from a mixing plant on the second floor.
The water next flowed through six pairs of sand filters located in the basement of the building, then through an enormous eight-foot diameter pipe to the adjacent pump house. These waterworks exist today beneath the Filter Building.
White Rock Lake water was used by the City for many years, but the construction of the many lakes in North Texas; Lakes Dallas, Lewisville, Grapevine, Towakoni, Cedar Creek and Hubbard in the 1950’s, supplanted White Rock and its aging equipment. The facility was closed; the sedimentation basins filled and the Filter Building doors and windows bricked closed in 1963. Woodrow Wilson high school students still managed to sneak into the basement and the initials and names of several current Lakewood residents may be found “graffiteed” on the walls below.
In 2003, the competitive sport of rowing on White Rock Lake consisted of SMU Women’s Crew and a Highland Park High School Club team rowing from facilities in the Bath House basement.
John Mullen, the founder of the Dallas Rowing Club and Sam Leake, a cycling and triathlon coach at the Tom Landry Sports Medicine and Research Center who was also teaching basic rowing lessons on the lake, founded a 501(c)3 charitable corporation, the White Rock Boathouse, Inc. to extend high school crew to DISD students and introduce recreational and competitive rowing to Dallas adults.
The historic but abandoned water works were leased from Dallas Water Utilities, $2.7 million was raised privately and the facilities were restored and adapted for rowing. The Filter Building was restored and renovated into an event venue whose net revenue supports the White Rock Boathouse outreach rowing programs. From our mission statement;
Operated by the 510(c)3 charitable corporation White Rock Boathouse Inc., The Filter Building event venue is the latest addition to our facilities. Rental income from The Filter Building supports programs of the Boathouse; community outreach, juniors rowing, and adaptive rowing for the disabled, including veterans.