Is there really a little ghost town at the bottom of Canyon Lake?
Sort of, according to Dive Master Chris Armstrong, a 31-year-old, fourth-generation Canyon Lake native who works for SA Scuba Shack in San Antonio.
Just back from a two-week diving vacation in Thailand with his girlfriend and diving partner Valeria Chavez, he said most of the older locals who find out he’s a diver want to know if Hancock is still “down there.”
Armstrong’s spent a lot of time trying to answer that question for himself. Although he’s found fence posts, house frames, support structures and evidence of old creek beds, actual buildings and tombstones have yet to materialize in front of his scuba mask.
Hidden Town Below?
“I grew up with the stories about the hidden town under Canyon Lake,” he said. “About the church, the town, the post office, the old cemetery. Once I got my advanced diving certificate, which allows me to go to 130 feet, I started exploring. Me and my girlfriend got the idea to start taking pictures. Not too many people have pictures of what’s down there, and no one really knows what’s down there.”
However, (spoiler alert), he reminds the curious that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave ample warning to residents soon to be displaced by construction of the lake in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Most lumber and anything else of value was stripped away by homeowners.
“There’s still stuff down there, but not as much stuff as people think,” he said. “But there is something down there.”
What Lies Beneath
What lies beneath for sure are trash and beer bottles close to the shoreline. Further out are 30- and 40-foot oak and pecan trees and tons of fishing lines.
“We named one part of it the Forest of 1,000 Lines,” he said. “One of my pictures shows a tree with 50 to 60 fishing lines caught up in the tree limbs.”
Armstrong, who also works in the oilfields as a rig hand, said he dives because “it’s the idea of going somewhere no one’s ever been and seeing stuff that people will never see, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.”
Familiar Look & Feel
Canyon Lake may not be as exotic as the islands of Thailand, the waters of the Yucatan Peninsula, offshore Qatar, or even nearby Florida, but Armstrong’s very familiar with its look and feel.
“What do we see? At shallower depths, lots of rocks. That’s usually where the fish hang out. Bass, perch and blue gill,” he said. “When we get down to the 55- to 60-foot depth, it’s very dark, not a lot of light, but a lot of dirt. It’s very fine silt, and also where we find bigger fish, common carp that are a lot bigger than we thought they would be. We found several pecan bottoms where streams would be.”
The coldest temperatures he’s experienced are around 58 degrees. The water’s pretty warm for the first 40 feet down, where visibility ranges up to 30 feet.
Armstrong said he’s even discovered a little cove where he can see everything. However, in other parts of the lake, the visibility is so poor he can’t see his hand in front of his diving mask.
He began his diving adventures on the Comal River, working up from open-water certification, to advanced water certification, to master diver certification, to rescue diver before finally becoming a dive master.
Eventually, he’d like to work as a fulltime rescue diver with area fire departments.
Editor’s Note: According to Texas State Historical Association, “Hancock, in the Hancock Valley fifteen miles northwest of New Braunfels in northern Comal County, was named for John Hancock, who in 1851 was granted land on the north bank of the Guadalupe River. The community was served by the Sorrell Creek school. The Hancock post office opened in 1914 in a private residence, operated later in the Frank Guenther store, and then was discontinued. In 1940 the farming and ranching community had a population of ten and was on a postal route from Fischer Store. The town grew to forty residents in the 1950s, but in the early 1960s when the Canyon Lake dam was completed, the townsite was submerged.”