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WHAT’S IN A NAME: Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant named for history buff, community leader

Thomas C. Ferguson in front of power plant

Judge Thomas C. Ferguson in front of the original Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant built by the Lower Colorado River Authority in Horseshoe Bay in 1974. The plant was named after the former district judge, mayor, state representative, and LCRA board member. Courtesy photo

The Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant in Horseshoe Bay provides electric power for about 1 million Texans. The man for which it was named generated his own kind of power, working in his community as a soldier, journalist, Boy Scout leader, lawyer, mayor, county judge, district judge, Lower Colorado River Authority board member, state representative, and more. 

According to those who knew him, historical research was his true love, second only to Vera, his wife of 51 years.

“He was a historian,” said Joy Taylor, a longtime member and former president of the Burnet County Heritage Society. 

She did the research and wrote the background document for Ferguson’s commemorative tile in the Fort Croghan Museum’s Plaza of Honor, which will be unveiled at 4 p.m. Dec. 11. She was also a personal friend. 

“He was the driving force in the museum,” she said. “We would tell him what we wanted to do, and he would say, ‘Joy, you go ahead and do that.’”  

In fact, Ferguson bought and donated the land and the building for the Fort Croghan Grounds and Museum, 703 Buchanan Drive in Burnet, the site of the original Fort Croghan. The fort was set up in 1849 to protect settlers moving into the area.

“He was so interested in the history of the fort that he wanted a place to show the public what had gone before,” she said. “So, he bought the building and donated it to the Heritage Society so we could accumulate memories of Burnet County history and share it with the public.” 

The building now houses memories of the judge, including his desk, books, photographs, and scrapbooks he kept of his travels.

“Every time he and Vera would go on vacation, they would drive to see some historical monument or some historical place, something that meant something to Texas history or the history of the U.S.,” Taylor said. “He would have snapshots of famous graves, buildings, and historical markers. He kept them all in scrapbooks.” 

Ferguson especially loved researching Texas outlaws. His papers include files on some of his favorites along with letters he wrote to libraries, historians, and families seeking more information.

His interest in outlaws could well stem from his 13 years as the 33rd Judicial District judge. 

“He had such a knowledge of human nature,” Taylor said. “I think that’s why he was such a good judge. He recognized our shortcomings as human beings.” 

Thomas C. Ferguson exhibit at Fort Croghan
Judge Thomas Ferguson’s desk in a Fort Croghan Grounds and Museum exhibit in Burnet. On display are his books, the phone from his home office, photos of his wife, Vera (center left), and himself as a master sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II. The desk also contains medals and just a few of the many awards he earned throughout his life. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Ferguson was also known for his public speaking and lay preaching.

“He was a Christian man,” Taylor said. “He filled the pulpit of any church that called on him. He was a member of the Burnet Christian Church, but he would fill the pulpit in Johnson City, anywhere they called for him. He also talked at I don’t how many graduations throughout the district.” 

Ferguson was born in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1906. He found his way to Burnet at a young age, graduating from Burnet High School in 1921. Immediately after graduation, he became owner-editor of the Liberty Hill Index, a weekly local newspaper. He went on to own several other papers, including the Burnet Bulletin from 1924-26.

His interests soon turned to the courts, law, and government administration. He became deputy district clerk of Burnet County in 1927 and passed the state bar in 1928. He was chairman of the Burnet County School Board from 1934-41 and mayor of Burnet from 1939-42. He enlisted in the U.S. Army when the nation joined World War II in 1942, serving as a master sergeant when the war ended in 1945. 

After returning to his family in Burnet, he was appointed Burnet County judge. Two years later, he was appointed district judge, a position he held until 1960 through three re-elections. The list of jobs, positions, and honors for community service goes on as Thomas “Tommy” Ferguson became involved in the Masons, the Boy Scouts, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs, and the Texas State Historical Commission, Foundation, and Genealogical Society, among many other organizations.

His appointment as one of the founding members of the LCRA Board of Directors ultimately led to his name becoming affixed to the power plant in Horseshoe Bay, a facility with its own accolades. 

The current $500 million plant is the second in that location. It opened in 2014 and was the first plant in Texas to follow new federal guidelines on greenhouse gas emissions. It uses less water and creates less noise than the plant it replaced, according to the LCRA. The new plant retained the name given when the first one went online in 1974.

Martin McLean of Marble Falls, who is also a former Burnet County judge and LCRA board member, said Ferguson certainly deserved the honor of having a major facility named after him. McLean was friends with Ferguson, following him a generation behind in many of the same community positions.

“I always had a lot of respect for him,” McLean said. “The first thing that comes to mind is that he had a fantastic memory. I really enjoyed visiting with him. He could sit down and talk to you about something that happened 50 years ago and remember every detail.”

A fitting attribute for someone who continues to be remembered fondly long after his death in 1991. 

“He was involved in so many people’s lives,” Taylor said. “Lord knows how many graduation announcements, how many birthday cards he’d get every year. People throughout the district felt like they knew him personally.” 

suzanne@thepicayune.com