The Man Who Named The Town
Oroville was a small town that was discovered on October 1850, by James Monroe Burt. He named the city after a legendary biblical city of gold ‘Ophir’. However, after they discover that there was already another city called Ophir in Placer County, they switched the name to Oroville. It is a combination of oro and ville. Oro in Spanish means gold and ville means town in French.
In 1850, he was elected Butte County’s first county attorney. In 1856 he built one of the first brick buildings on Bird Street. Burt died on November 4, 1884. His remains are underneath a spire in the old Oroville cemetery, which is located near the grave of judge C.F. Lott.
March 18th 1907 was the day known for the great flood. This flood washed out the Thermalito Bridge. The floodwater covered Meyer to Bird St. and all of Montgomery St. The 1907 flood completely destroyed Dredgerville, a small town south of Thermalito. Due to the 1907 flood, a concrete levee was build to protect downtown.
In December 1937, the Sacramento valley was hit with another flood. The municipal building was built up on stilts to protect it form the raging water. Over fifty families were forced to evacuate.
In 1951, the California State Legislature authorized the Feather River Project. The project included the Oroville Dam, Reservoir, the power plant, and smaller dams up and down the main dam. The main purpose of the project was to control the floods, irrigation, municipal water supply, and power generation. The watershed that flowed into Oroville Dam had an area of 3,610 square miles. The seasonal run-off of the river at the dam varied from about 4,500,00 acre/feet to 1,200,000 and a maximum of 9,000,000 acre/feet (Soldano).
The dam was located about five miles northeast of Oroville. The first thing that was done after the dam was authorized, was deciding on what kind of dam to build. A mass concrete dam was thought to be the best choice, but after the Oroville Dam Consulting Board was formed in 1956, an embankment type of dam was the decision. Because the dam was an earth-filled dam, the deposit of coarse gravel along the Feather River could be used (Soldano).
The two structures that made the dam work was a flood control outlet and an emergency spillway. The spillway was a massive concrete chute that extended 3,600 ft down of the right abutment of the dam to the Feather River that was below. The control gate in the spillway crest would permit the regulation of 750,000 acre/feet allocated to flood control (Soldano).
Construction on the dam began on August 1962. Conveyor belt railroad cars were needed to move the dredger that was needed to build the dam. In a day, about fifty-train load of about 4,400 tons of dredgers were hauled to the dam, so that delivery of over 100,000 cubic yards per day was achieved. The total expenditure for construction work was about $460,000,000 (Soldano).
The underground power plant is one of the largest of its type in the United States. It’s about 120 ft high and 550 ft long, and 69 ft wide. It had six generators, each approximately 107,000 kilowatts. Three of the generators were reversible and became pumps for pumping waters back into the reservoir. When the generators were combined with the Thermalito off-stream, they supply Northern California’s power system with 710,000 kilowatts (Soldano).
One of the most important purposes of the Oroville Dam was flood control. It reserves 750,000 acre/feet of water, which is twice the amount of the flood recorded in the lower part of Feather River. Even as a partially completed dam, it held back more than 110,000 acre/feet of water in December 1964. It prevented a recurrence of the 1955 flood and saved an estimated of 30,000,000 million dollars in damage down stream (Soldano).
Oroville and Shasta Dam are both important for both North and South California because South California needs the waters from the dam for irrigation and municipal uses. Northern California needs the dam to prevent floods. These two dams can greatly reduce the severe floods. Before the dams were built, only parts of the valley were not under water (Soldano).
“The Man Who Named The Town.” Oroville Mercury Register Advertising Supplement Mar. 2006: 4-5.
Lenhoff, Jim. “Flood Waters Pour Into Oroville.” Oroville Mercury Register Advertising Supplement Mar. 2006: 36-38.
Soldano, Robert. The History and Uses of Shasta and Oroville Dams. Essay