DOOM TWO HISTORIC TOWNS
Modesto Bee ,
Sept. 21, 195?
very river that cradled two once booming mining and mill town now is
destined to become their grave.
communities, moldering these many years with only relics left to show
for their bygone glory, are Merced Falls in Merced County and the town
of Bagby in Mariposa County.
developments on the Merced River will inundate these two sleepy centers
of the past, the former once an important river crossing and
flourishing mill town and the latter a booming mining and milling
community on the northern limits of General John C Fremont's fabulous
$83, 000,000 river development program unveiled last week by the Merced
Irrigation District embraces three main construction projects;
the MID's existing reservoir by raising Exchequer Dam 163
feet. This would expand the reservoir's capacity from 281,200 to
1,000,.000 acre feet.
Construction of a dam approximately one half mile downstream from Bagby
to create a reservoir of 415,000 acre feet.
Construction of a dam about midway between Merced Falls and Snelling
just above the present MID diversion. This would add 190,00 acre feet
of water storage.
dammed up waters swirl over the site of Merced Falls only a few
remnants of its once burgeoning economy will be covered. THe
latter day buildings mark the spot about six miles upstream from
Snelling, a small power generating facility and a general store.
powerhouse will be dismantled to make room for the greater development
and the store probably will enjoy final hours of prosperity when
construction crews arrive to build the new dam.
ago, the story would have been different. In fact,
until 1893 when a second disastrous fire swept through Merced
Falls, then the principal river crossing on the old Stockton -Fort
Miller Road, could boast two large industries.
Nelson, a new Hampshire millwright who came to California in 1850,
settled in Merced Falls in March, 1854 and started a flour mill.
woolen mill was erected nearby but was destroyed by a fire in 1872 with
a $67,000 loss to building, machinery and stock.
later, the Merced Woolen Mills Company was organized and erected a
factory near the site of the of the demolished building.
evidence of this bustling era remains, but as late as 1932 a large
lumber mill in Merced Falls boasted an annual lumber cut of more than
situated high above the meandering Merced on the steep canyon slope,
has more to show the seeker of early California for its golden era of
standing are the old Baby Hotel and the blockhouse like passenger depot
of the Yosemite Valley Railroad.
steel bridge which carries Highway 49 across the ricer at Bagby can be
seen the piers that once held a powerhouse erected by General Fremont
to operate his extensive mining and milling activities. The
surrounding hills are pocked by old mines and a few new ones, some of
them still active on a one or two man basis.
the northern limit of the vast Fremont Grant which covered 44,500 acres
of the rolling country for miles around- and even more when Fremont
discovered gold beyond the boundaries.
AS FREMONT GRANT
explorer-warrior-politician-pioneer claimed this area in 1850 as part
of the grant he had purchased from Juan Bautista Alvarado, onetime
governor of California, and the region still is known as the Fremont
the site of Ridley's Ferry, originally was called Benton's Mill , named
by Fremont after his father in law, United State Senator Thomas H
Benton, whom he greatly admired.
Bullion, nor far from Bagby, also was named after Senator Benton whose
nickname was "Old Bullion," a moniker he gained for his vigorous
advocacy of hard money in the seething political battles over the
The Pine Tree
and Josephine Mines are secluded in the mountains between Bear Valley
and Bagby. A section of the old grade for the tramway which
carried gold rich are from the mines down to the river mills now serves
as part of the Mother Lode Highway approach to Bagby/
of Benton's Mills resulted from the friendship between the late
Benjamin Abner Bagby and N. C. Ray, an engineer on the Yosemite Rails
road Company line.
became a member of the State's railroad commission and when summoned to
Washington DC on business asked Bagby what favor he could do for
him. "Ab," as he was known replied that he would like to have a
post office at Benton's Mill.
Washington officials receptive to the idea but opposed to the idea to
the name because California already had a postoffice designated as
Benton. Ray immediately came up with the name Bagby and it became
official in 1900 with the establishment of the postoffice.
Valley Railroad threading through the rugged county from Merced to El
Portal , the gateway to Yosemite National Park, made its final run in
1945. And , right up until the tracks were taken up, the proud
railroad was bringing logs down from the timber country and carrying
passengers in their elegant sleeping cars through this historic country
to the park entrance.
sign at Bagby shows the population to be 25.
there's about 20 here now, says R W Jamieson , "and I know them all."
Jamieson is the oldest resident of Bagby now, but even he arrived just
30 years ago. long after the town's heyday.
cooked for the miners who sought their fortunes in the surrounding
"I don't know
how they liked my cooking," he says, "but there always was plenty of
it." Most of the mires have gone, but Jamieson has stayed on in Bagby
living by himself.
"I like it
here," he explains "there's nobody much to bother me."
sitting under the marquee that shelters the walkway in front of the
Bagby General Store. Asked about the dam which would put that very spot
300 feet under water, the old man just chuckled.
"Well, if I
live to see it,: he doubted, "it won't bother me none, I'll just
move on-up higher."
J L Eldred,
owner of the Bagby store and a former Modestian, also voiced skepticism
over how soon the dam would become a reality.
"I came out
to California in 1936," he says,. "to work on Great Don Pedro Dam.
They'd been been talking about it then for a long time and everybody
seemed to think it wouldn't be long before work started. As you
know, if everything goes right, it will be started in 1961."
retired from his work with a farm machinery firm, bought the Bagby sore
and 40 acres of property nearby a year ago. He added:
"As far as
I'm concerned personally, I don't care. I can sell this place for
three times what I have in ti to someone who want to move in here for
the boom when work on the dam starts. I'm not interested in
that. Too many headaches. I'll move on."
not take the development so matter of factly. Chris Mills, for
instance, is apt to be a holdout. He has valuable mining property
right behind the presently proposed damsite. What he might want
to abandoned that claim may be a great deal more that the developers
are prepared to pay.
also may be anticipated in settling with the Alaska-Juneau Company
which has extensive mining holdings on the south side of the river.
The MID is
planning to finance the extensive development with $13,000,000 flood
control contribution from the federal government and $70, 000,00 in
The bonds are
to be retired through the sale of power to the Pacific Gas and Electric
Company, and power generation facilities figure in each of the three
powerhouse at Exchequer will produce 91,000 kilowatts of electrical
energy compared to the present 15,000 KW. Power installations at
Bagby and Snelling-Merced Falls will generate 50,000 and 25,000 KW,
respectively, giving the district an estimated annual revenue of
$4,090,000. The MID now derives an average annual revenue of
about $525,000 from the sale of Exchequer power.
says Eldred, "and efficient use of a valuable resource should have been
done a long time ago."