A California Place Name Neither Indian, Spanish Nor Civil War

Lake Almanor is one of Plumas County’s prime recreation areas. It’s a reservoir with a capacity of 1.3 million acre-feet.

One acre-foot is about 326,00 gallons, roughly the water a family of four uses each year.

almanor1Now owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, the reservoir, about 90 feet deep, was built by Great Western Power by damming the North Fork of the Feather River.

Before becoming an artificial lake, the area was known as Big Meadows.

According to Jim Young in his Plumas County: History of the Feather River Region, Julius Howells, a civil engineer, envisioned Big Meadows filled with water and pitched the idea to Edwin Earl, a newspaper publisher. Earl’s brother Guy was also interested. So was Arthur Breed, Oakland’s city auditor and a big time real estate agent.

They created a plan to buy up the valley.

Using Augustus Bidwell, a resident of nearby Greenville as a front man, Breed bought options from valley ranch owners, telling them he was simply going to resell the options to others.

In 1902, the Plumas National Bulletin reported that Breed had bought all of Butt Valley, southwest of Big Meadows.

However, G.P. Cornell of Greenville also had his eye on the water rights for Big Meadows. Hiking down the North Fork, Bidwell and Howells found two men sent by Cornell staking a claim to the area’s water.

Believing the two men were next going to register their claim at the county seat in Quincy, Howells and Bidwell cut the phone lines, located the county recorder a little after 8:00 pm, and recorded their right to the water – 50 minutes before Cornell’s men reached town.

With the water rights in hand, the Earls sought financial backers to build the reservoir, creating Great Western Power and selling 50,000 shares for $5 million.

Condemnation actions were filed against recalcitrant valley diary ranchers.

lassenConstruction of the dam began in 1911.

There was just one problem – Prattville.

Prattville’s 100 or so residents liked where they lived and saw no reason to sell out to the Earls.

But on July 4, 1910 while the townspeople were celebrating the holiday with a baseball game and picnic a few miles away, there was loud explosion followed by a pillar of smoke. Most of Prattville was burned to the ground.

Arson or timely coincidence, within two years the land belonged to Great Western Power.

Today’s Canyon Dam is the site of the camp built by the 60-man construction crew.

By 1914, the earth-fill dam and concrete spillway were completed.

Guy Earl named the lake after his daughters — Alice, Martha and Elinore.

“Al” from Alice. “Ma” from Martha and “Nor” from Elinore.


Filed under: California History

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment