These photos along with a short review of the project and photographer originally appeared in the 1964 issue of Diggin’s from the Butte County Historical Society, Voume 8, No. 1, Spring Edition. You can download the light edited submission by Chico State Professor of History Dr. Clarence F. McIntosh. I republish this material courtesy of the Butte County Historical Society (BCHS) who were extremely gracious in helping me locate this information on my brief visit to their office at the end of July, 2015.
Watkins photographs document Feather River project
The promoter and director of this ambition 19th century water project was Major Frank McLaughlin. As a means of documenting the project’s progress for his European investors, San Francisco photographer Carleton Watkins was hired to take a variety photographs. The photographs of the Golden Feather and Golden Gate Mining Claim project found their way to the Bancroft Library in Berkeley. With the help of historians, the Butte County Historical Society was able to get small copies of Watkins folio in 1964.
Butte County Historical Society preserving history
The images posted here are pictures of BCHS photos that were taken of the original photos from 1892 located in the Bancroft Library. Surprisingly, the photos reproduce pretty good considering the inherent degeneration of successive photographic captures. It’s just amazing what these little smart phone cameras are capable of capturing. You will notice that on some of the images there is a dark eclipse in the corners if I didn’t crop it out. I assume this is a result of Watkins camera and distance from his camera lens to the glass plate negative he was working with.
Photos show Feather River cresting over head dam
By the time Watkins arrived at the project sometime in late 1891, according to Dr. McIntosh’s research, the head dam and flume would have been completed. Consequently, most of the construction pictures are of the foot dam. The shadows in some of the pictures indicate that the sun was relatively low in the southern horizon suggesting the images were captured in late autumn through possible early spring. This would also explain how Watkins captured an image of the Feather River cresting over the head dam from a previous rainstorm or snowmelt. In the summer months the wooden flume and canal were able to carrying the entire flow of the Feather River.
Harper’s Weekly features Feather River in 1895
Harper’s Weekly published a story about the Feather River Dam project in January 1895. (See 1895 Feather River Diversion for the complete text of the story and photographs). They included two gray-scale water color images of the project. More than likely these water colors were created from Watkins’ photos. In the first Harper’s Weekly water color image is a man crossing suspension bridge over the canal. This approximates closely to my image W2_Feather_river_Morris_Ravine_mining_flume.jpg. While artistic license has obviously been employed, note that the wall curves to connect with existing rock outcroppings in both the photograph and the water color image.
Water color images from photos
The second Harper’s Weekly image is closely related to W13_hydraulic_mining_elevators_Oroville.jpg with the wooden flume above and the sluicing elevator dropping into the river bed. There are other photographs that I did not see on my visit to the BCHS that were included in the original 1964 Diggin’s quarterly publication. It’s possible that the Harper’s Weekly artist had other Watkin’s photographs to work from.
Long flumes and canals
The Golden Feather Mining and Golden Gate Mining Company’s water project consisted of two dams, 3,880 feet of wooden flume and 6,000 feet of a rock walled canal. The main, first or head dam as it is often referred to was on the Golden Gate Mining Claim. It directed the summer flow of the Feather River in to a wooden flume that was fifty feet wide by five feet height in dimension. The Golden Gate Mining Claim flume carried the river down to the foot or second dam at Morris Ravine. The river flow from the flume emptied into the rock walled canal.
Foot and Head dams
While researching the various components of the project I noticed that dam references were mixed up and sometimes interchanged. Consequently, I try to refer to the first dam on the Feather River as the Golden Gate main, head or first dam. The second dam lower in the system at Morris Ravine I call the Golden Feather Mining Claim foot dam. The various parts of the project were designated to the mining claims along the Feather River that were consolidated for the overall water project.
Flume passed river to canal
The Golden Feather Mining Claim foot dam collected all the water being used for mining between it and upstream to the Golden Gate head dam. This water, along with any creek water from Morris Ravine, was directed into the Golden Feather Mining Claim rock wall canal. The foot dam was right before the river made a turn from westerly to southerly direction at the base of South Table Mountain. The river was pinched between base of South Table Mountain and a small north-south ridge. This north-south little ridge would become the spot of the Western Pacific Railroad tunnel. It was obviously easier to tunnel through the hill than to attempt a cut on the steep hillside.
Dr. McIntosh’s article for the Butte County Historical Society’s Diggin’s publication, The Carleton E. Watkins Photographs of the Golden Gate and Golden Feather Mining Claims, includes a brief overview of the water project. The larger focus is on photographer Carleton Watkins his work and legacy. In the early 1960’s the construction of the Oroville Dam and the Thermalito Diversion Dam would have started. With completion of the 20th State Water Project it was understood that all remnants of the early Golden Gate and Golden Feather water project were to be submerged under water. Fortunately, the members of the BCHS managed to secure many photos of that great undertaking.
1891 Photos of Golden Gate, Golden Feather Mining Claim dams, flume and canal
The captions on the photographs were taken from the original 1964 Diggin’s publication, with a few additions for clarification. Not all photographs presented in the original Diggin’s issue are included here. For an outline of how to visit the site see Hiking Oroville’s Thermalito Lake and Trail.