[env-trinity] SF Chronicle- Anger lingers over towns flooded by Trinity Dam
tstokely at att.net
Mon Sep 12 11:34:41 PDT 2011
Anger lingers over towns flooded by Trinity Dam
Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, September 12, 2011
The closest Mary Hamilton can get to her hometown is on a boat in the middle of a lake.
There, beneath the watery depths of Trinity Lake, lies old Trinity Center - its homes and hotels, saloons and schools, ranches and resorts - all now a murky underwater ghost town.
In its day, Trinity Center was a lively hub of commerce, a major stop on the only road from San Francisco to Portland. But all that washed away when the government built Trinity Dam and flooded the valley.
"My parents fought it, but it didn't do any good," said Hamilton, 79, whose family lived in and around Trinity Center for generations. "It was terrible. Just awful. So much pioneer work went into building that town, it was like losing a part of yourself."
It's been 50 years since the Bureau of Reclamation built Trinity Lake, flooding Trinity Center, Stringtown and Minersville into oblivion. As dwindling numbers of former residents gather for reunions, emotions remain raw over the loss of their towns and the struggle to keep the memories alive.
'nobody wanted this'
"It's like a death," said Hamilton, who was in her early 20s when the order came to evacuate. "The lake is beautiful, but so much was lost. Nobody wanted this. We were just devastated."
Trinity Lake isn't the only Northern California reservoir with ghost towns scattered along its bottom. Lake Shasta, built in the late 1930s and early 1940s, contains the remnants of Kennett, which in its heyday had 10,000 residents, an opera house, three-story hotels, a hospital, a cemetery and the famed Diamond Bar Saloon, reputedly the most opulent bar between Sacramento and Portland.
Kennett residents were so mad about the dam that some refused to leave, said Jay Thompson, a historian at the Shasta Historical Society in Redding.
"They were pioneers," he said. "There was a lot of hard labor that went into building this town, and they weren't just going to go."
But as the water crept up over doors, windows and eventually rooftops, go they did. Now Kennett is 400 feet underwater.
With the loss of these towns, a slice of Western history vanished as well, historians said. Most of these towns dated from California's earliest days and were microcosms of the California story: First came mining, then logging, with a little ranching, tourism and partying thrown in.
"These little towns were boom-bust-boom-bust for generations," said Howard May, historian at the Trinity County Historical Society in Weaverville. "They were all highly local, self-sufficient places. It was life on a very small scale - socially, economically, culturally."
Before the railroads, the main wagon road to Oregon and points north went through the rugged, picturesque Trinity Alps, bypassing the Shasta area because of hostile relations with the local American Indians, historians said.
In its day, Trinity County was among the most populated areas in the state. It's now among the least populated, with only 14,000 residents spread over 2 million acres.
Mark Groves, 82, has great memories of Stringtown, where his family had lived on and off for decades. There was a bar, a store and a school, with a few dozen houses strung along the road, hence the name.
Everyone got together for baseball games against Trinity Center and Lewiston, he said.
And the fishing, everyone agrees, was incredible. Before the dam, salmon migrated freely up the Trinity River in great numbers and were a staple of the local diet.
"When the government engineers came, we had a lot of town meetings. They were packed," Groves said. "Virtually everyone was opposed to the dam. But it was a fait accompli. The government came in, and that was it."
The government paid property owners for their land, but residents had no recourse if they didn't want to leave.
"These days, people's first stop would be the Sierra Club in San Francisco," May said. "But back then, these places were very isolated. You weren't within 10 feet of the levers of power."
Some moved to nearby towns, and others left the area entirely. Residents of Trinity Center actually moved some of the buildings, including the Odd Fellows hall, uphill to form a new Trinity Center, which is now along Highway 3.
For decades, residents were so bitter about the dam that they tore down signs and misdirected tourists for what the government dubbed Clair Engle Lake, named after a Democratic U.S. senator who was active in water policy. It wasn't until 10 years ago that the government changed the name to Trinity Lake.
a boon for some
But for some residents, the dam was good news, May said.
The towns were suffering economically as mining dried up, and some welcomed a payout from the government, he said.
"Like in the recession today, some people were economically marooned," he said. "If you were stuck with no money in, say, Stringtown, it felt like the lowest nether regions of the world."
But for those with jobs and homes and a wide social network, "this was like Armageddon," he said.
Groves and his family moved to the Coffee Creek area, where they started a winery. His son, Keith, the last baby born in Stringtown, said that in some ways, Trinity Lake didn't just swallow three towns, it also stripped residents of much of their prized self-sufficiency.
With the dam, the fisheries are greatly diminished, and lake levels - which affect tourism - fluctuate widely based on the state's water needs.
"There's a lot of frustration because these policies are still out of our hands," he said. "But this all happened in 1955. People back then didn't really argue with the federal government."
E-mail Carolyn Jones at carolynjones at sfchronicle.com.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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