Mariposa History and Genealogy Research

Photos will be Added Soon

by Dace Cummerow
Modesto Bee , Sept. 21, 195?

The very river that cradled two once booming mining and mill town now is destined to become their grave.
The 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.
Planned 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 empire.
The  $83, 000,000 river development program unveiled last week by the Merced Irrigation District embraces three main construction projects;
1. Enlarging 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.
2. Construction of a dam approximately one half mile downstream from Bagby to create a reservoir of 415,000 acre feet.
3. 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.
When the 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.
The 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.
Eighty years 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.
William Nelson, a new Hampshire millwright who came to California in 1850, settled in Merced Falls in March, 1854 and started a flour mill.
Later, a woolen mill was erected nearby but was destroyed by a fire in 1872 with a $67,000 loss to building, machinery and stock.
Two years later, the Merced Woolen Mills Company was organized and erected a factory near the site of the of the demolished building.
Little 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 50,000,000 feet.
Bagby, 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 bygone days.
Still standing are the old Baby Hotel and the blockhouse like passenger depot of the Yosemite Valley Railroad.
Below the 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.
Bagby marks 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.
The famous 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 Grant.
Bagby, once 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.
Mount 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 country's currency.
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/
The renaming 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.
Ray later 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.
Ray found 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.
The yosemite 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.
The highway sign at Bagby shows the population to be 25.
"Actually, 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.
Jamieson once cooked for the miners who sought their fortunes in the surrounding hills.
"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."
Jamieson was 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."
Eldred who 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."
Others may 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.
Difficulties 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 revenue bonds.
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 projects.
A new 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.
"Progress," says Eldred, "and efficient use of a valuable resource should have been done a long time ago."