Sept. 21, 1958 or 59 (hard to read)
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 town of Bagby in Mariposa County.
Planned developments on the Merced River will inundate these two sleepy centers of the past, the former once and 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 river development program unveiled last week by the Merced Irrigation District embraces three main construction projects.
1. Enlarging the MID's existing reservoirs by raising Exchequer Dam 163 feet. This would expand the reservoir's capacity from 282, to 1,000,000 acre feet.
2. Construction of a dam approximately on half mile down stream 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 dam. This would add 190,000 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 and settled in Merced Falls and started a flour mill.
Latter, a woolen mill was erected nearby but was destroyed by fire in 1872 with $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 demolished building.
Little evidence of this bustling era remains, but as late as 1932 a large lumbermill in Merced Falls boasted an annual lumber cut of more that 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 Babgy Hotel and the blockhouse like passenger depot of the Yosemite Valley Railroad.
Below the steel bridge which carries Highway 49 across the river at Bagby can be seen the piers that once held a powerhouse erected by General Fremont to operate his extensive mining and milling activites. 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.
Babgy 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.
Still Known as Fremont Grant
The famed explorer-warrior-politician-pioneer claimed this area in 1850 as part of the grant he had purchased from Juan Bautista Alvarado, one time 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 States Senator Thomas H. Benton, whom he greatly admired.
Mount Bullion, not far from Bagby, also was named aftger Senator Benton whose nickname was "Old Bullion," a monicker he gained for his vigorous advocacy of hard homey in the seethhing 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 ore from the mines now serves as part of the Mother Lode Highway approach to Bagby.
The remaining of Benton's Mill resulted from the friendhip between the late Benjamin Abner Bagby and N C Ray, an engineer of the Yosemite Railroad Company line.
Ray leter became a member of the state's railroad commission and when summonded 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 postoffice at Benton's Mill.
Ray found Washington officials receptive to the idea but opposed to the name because California already had a postoffice designated as Benton. Ray immediately came up with the name Bagby and it became offical in 1900, with the establishment of the postoffice.
The Yosemite Valley Railroad threading through the rugged country from Mreced to El Portal, the gatewway to Yosemite National Park, made its final run in 1945. And right up until the tracks were taken up, the proud railroad ws bringing logs down from the timber country and carrying passengers in their elegant sleepings cars through this historic country to the park entrance.
The highway sign at Bagby shows tthe 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 like my cooking," he says , "but there always was plenty of it." Most of the miners 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 Babgy General Store. Aked 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 doublted, "it won't bother me none. I'll just move on-up higher."
J L Eldred, owner of the Bagby store and former Modestan, also voiced skepticism over how soon the dam would become a reality.
"I came out to California in 1936," he says, "to work on the Greater Don Pedro Dam. They'd 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 store 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 it to someone who wants to move in here for the boom when work ont he dam starts. I'm not interested in that. Too many headaches. I'll move on."
Others may not take the developement so matter of factly. Chris Mills, for instance, is apt to be a holdout. He has valuable mining property right behind the present proposed damsite. What he might want to abandon that claim may be a great deal more than 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 $70,000,0000 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 presnt 25,000 KW. Power installations at bagby and Snelling-Merced Falls will generate 50,000 and 25,000 KWW, 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."
SPECULATOR BUYS BAGBY; AREA MAY BE SUBMERGED
Bagby, Mariposa Co- This once thriving community of 25 in habitants, all but turned to dust, soon may be sugmerged under a thousand feet of water.
But a young Oaklander with a gambling spirit has bought the whole 40 acre townsite hoping to develop it into a luxury recreation are.
If a $120 million Merced irrigation District bond issue passes, however, the proposed tourist center "will have to be manned by aquanauts:. MID Chief Engineer Kenneth McSwain said.
The reported price for the land in Hells Hollow where the Merced River crosses Highway 49 is about $50,000. But, neigher buyer nor seller was around to discuss the details or it probable submerged state this morning.
The buyer, Ray Kelm, 28, soan of MR. and Mrs. H J Kelm of Atwater, Merced County, and employee of Kaiser Industries in Oakland, is in Washingont, DC and not return until next week.
The old owner, James L Eldred of Modesto, bought a trailer last month when the deal went through and headed for Texas and poins south, perhaps to return in June, a relative said this morning.
The bond issue to build three dams and guarantee ampole year round irrigation water for the MID will be voted on June 20th with ony a simple majority needed.
This community figures prominiently in the MID project plans. Once a stop for the famed Yosemite Valley Railroad and an ore processing center, Bagby welcomed thirsty travererls and prospectors as they made their way into the rich Mother Lode.
But as the gold and ore veins petered out and the YV railroad slowly folded itsoperations, people began to drift away from here and Bagby became a fading memory.
townsite contains an abandoned schoolroom, the 61 years old hotel and
A requiem for Bagby probably will come in the form of backwaters from the expoaned Exhequer Dam, 17 mils downstreat.
Lake McClure, behind Exchequer, now has a storage capacity of 282, 200 acre feet. If enlarged it would have a hold capacity of 1 millino acre feet, which would ncecessitate a backup of water reaching bagby and slightly beyond.
McSwain attested that with the lake at capacity Bagby would be covered by 1,000 feet of water.
Other dams wuld be constructed above Bagby and near Snelling in Merced County.
Wheather or not Kelm is aware of all this or knows that some of the area will remain above water is a question. His dreams, he has made it know, are of a booming outdoor play are compolete with hotel, motel, restaurant, bar and cabins.
He hopes to remodel the three story hotel extensively and figures on a luxury beach area.
The people of this small community-have known for more than two years their town probably would return to water with passage of the impending bodn program.
FAREWELL AS EXCHEQUER WATER RISES
by Lou Evon
Bagy- The scavengers remains of Bagby has been put to the torch and even as the ashes cool a reservoir is rising to bury the historic town under 50 feet of water.
The remians of Bagby , once a bustling community which had its beginnings even before Gen. John C. Fremeont built his gold milling facilities on the Merced River here, were heaped into several piles and set afire.
Once a mecca for gold seekers who stopped here for proviosion the once-small crossing along the river by 1906 could boast of Yosemite Valley Railroad Co. train service. In fact, it was the only community in Mariposa County had had ever been serviced by a railroad.
In reent yhears the community, especially after the YVRR was abandoned in 1945, culd not keep within hthe mainstream of economics. ITs doom was sealed wehen the MErced Irrigtaion District devided to reaise Exchequer Dam an additional 180 feet, increasing Lake McClure from 281,000 to 1.1 million acre feet.
The new reservoir, fed by recent rains and snow melt, contains some 650,000 acre feet and has reached an elevation of 805 feet.
The Merced River here no onger resembles an active stream. The water has backed up and widened along the bank of the old community.
The site of the old mill General Freemont built for processing ore already is underwater.
Fremont's mill processed gold re from the nearby Josephine and Pine Tree Mines. These mines, among the earliest in the lode wer opened about 1850.
Quartz from the mines were carried by gravity cars about 4.5 miles along a track to the mill. The only control was a barkeman who rode along the rickety track.
Sunday June 4, 1961
OAKLANDER SLIPS EASILY INTO ROLE AS BARON OF OWN TOWN
Weekends Keep Owner of Old Village Busy by Jerry Belcher
During the work week, Mel Kelm devotes his time to the care and feeding of a huge electronic brain in the Kaiser Center. His official title is computer programmer.
On weekends the 28-year-old Oklander deserts the city, heads for Hell's Hollow in Mariposa County and slips into his role as the Baron of Babgy-by-the Brook. Kelm doesn't use that title because he is a notably unstuffy young man, but he could if he were so inclined.
He might also call himself the King of Bagby, the President of Bagby or even the Caliph of Bagby.
Mel Owns Bagby
Bagby is a cluster of picturesque if somewhat aged buildings on the north bank of the Merced River, about half way between Mariposa and Coulterville. You get there on Highway 49.
It might not look it but Bagby is a boom town. According to the Bagby Chamber of Commerce, (Mel Kelm) the population has jumped 20 per cent in the last three months. When Kelm bought the town (40 acres, all told) early in March of this year, it had a populations of 25. Today it has 30.
Again, it might no look it, but Bagby is a dream. Kelm discovered the little town when he was a youngster riding herd on cattle from his grandparents' nearby ranch. It struck him then as a mighty pretty spot.
The swimming hole was warm and placid. There were smallmouth bass, perch and catfish aching to be caught. In the hills there was an abundance of game. And, if a man had a mind to, he could pan a little gold in the stream.
Kelm grew up, did an Army hitch in Korea, graduated from Fresno State College in chemistry, and took a job wi Kaiser Industries in Oakland. But he kept Bagby in mind.
Driving through last fall, he saw a "For Sale" sign planted on the outskirts of Bagby. He decided to buy on the spot, although negotiations took several months. Kelm, who lives at 7200 Chabot Road, had a town on his hands.
In the dream that Kelm hopes to turn into reality, Bagby will become one of California's top small resort towns. To take care of the tourist rush he hopes for, Kelm is remodeling the 61-year old Bagby Hotel, a 14-room establishment in the finest Mother Lode Gothic style of architecture.
He also is fixing up cabins and the general store, and eventually will install a bar. He's already brining in sand to create a beach for the swimming hole.
But, as in any Eden, there's a serpent in Bagby-or at least the potential thereof.
Bagby just might cease to exist in a few years. The Merced Irrigation District has a plan to build a three-dam project if a bond issue passes on the 20th of this month.
And one of the dams- scheduled for completion about six years from now- may back up enough water to put Bagby several feet under .
It it happens it would mean the end of a community founded sometime in the 1880's (and known until about 1900 as Benton Mills) and the end of Kelm's dream.
But even if Bagby is submerged, Kelm feels that he stand a good chance of coming out on Top. In the first place, the deluge, if it comes, won't come for several years after the dam is finished. In the second, the government might move Bagby lock stock and barrel and locate it on the edge of the resultant lake, if any, in which case the town would be an even better resort spot.
Whatever happens, Kelm can be content in the knowledge that for the moment at least he's the only man in the world who could, if he wanted, call himself the Baron of Bagby-by-the Brook.
August 1, 1965
BAGBY HAS FLOURISHED WITH DAMS; NOW ONE WILL BURY IT
by Lou Evon
BAGBY,, Mariposa Co- Once this was a bustling place, teeming with life and the excitement of gold. Prospectors, quartz miners and millworkers gave opulence ot a fine hotel, its saloons, stores and dance hall.
It even, in its more mature years, enjoyed the services of a railroad- the only Mariposa County town ever to do so.
more than a century ago with the mining and milling operations of
General John Charles Fremon in Hell's Howwo, there Highway 49 now
crossed the Merced River.
And it will end in 1967 when historic Bagby is submerged by the water backed up by the expansion of the Merced Irrigation District's Exchequer Dam, several miles below here.
When this multi million dollar project is completed, the lake behind Exchequer will be increased in storage capacity from the present 281,000 acre feet to 1.1 million acre feet.
And so, the town of Bagby which began with the building of a dam by Fremont, is doomed by another dam, which will spread water 50 feet over its remain.
In 1859 Fremont began the construction of a dam, replacing an earlier one, to generate water power for his new 48 stamp ore crusing mill. The site was called Ridley's Ferry then. When he opened the his mill, Fremont named it Benton Mills for his father in law, United States Senator Thomas Hart Benton.
The new mill processed ore form Fremont's Pine Tree Mine and Josephine Mine, opened about 1850 and among the earlies of the lode mines.
Quartz was hauled down to the mill in ore cars on a four and one half mile long railroad track. Propelled only by gravity, the cars were controleed by a brakeman riding on the cars.
In 1962 Fremont's new wooden dam was washied away by a flood. It was under constant repair until the winter of 1866-67 when a heavy runoff tore out a 60 foot section.
The condition of the dam, which supplied water for the mill, set the tempo of the town's economy. When the dam waws out a number of men were out of work. A new stronger dam was planned.
Meanwhile Fremont sold his fabulous holdings in 1863. The Maripsoa Commercial and Mining Company , the owner, authorized a new dam, a stong and massive combination of wood and iron.
10 Tons of Bolts
Smith & Dudley & Company of Coulterville supplied the required 400,000 feet of lumber. The new dam, "fastened together with 10 tons of iron bolts", was competed in October of 1868 after six weeks of construction. It was a 20 foot high and 64 foot long crib structure.
To match its new dam, the Maripsoa company installed new crushers in the mill and by the following March announced:
"The new mill at this place is in full blast, having 16 stamps (ultimately 60 stamps) crushing about 15 tons of ore in 24 hours."
Using the socalled Eureka process, the mill crushed the quartz. It was further pulverized in large rotating drums, each loaded qith 2,000 pounds of one ounce cast iron balls.
Those same iron balls years later proveided youngers with sling shot ammunition.
Used in Slingshots
"We used to dig out the iron balls (from the tainings) and use them in our sling shots,: reclass MRs. Herman (Winnie) Freyschlag of Mariposa.
She and her twin brother , Everett Bagby, Mariposa COunty's current probation officer, were born in Bagby in 1898.
The town was subsequently named for thier father, B A. (Benjamin Abner) Bagby, the communitys' first postmaster and business man. The elder Bagby obtained a patened claim on the historic site in 1892 and about five yeras later moved from Coulterville to establish a cusiness in the community which bears his name.
Bagby, with two partners, J D Quinn and Marcellus Wilburn, whom he later bought out, subsequently establishe a hotel and a store. The latlter was converted into a saloon in 1905 during the construction of the Yosemite Valley Railroad, completed in 1907, from Merced to El Portal.
However, the town got is presnt name before the construction of the railroad. Just before the 1900s it was beferred to as Bagbys or Bagbys Place. In 1901 the construction of a new dam, on the refurbished foundation of the earlier dam, spaked new life into the community.
By May, 1902, it became evident the new electric plant at Bagby "had proved to be indadequate to supply the demands made upon it by their (Mariposa Companys') mining industries".
But the historic town had something positive going for it. The rumors that a railroad would be constructed through Bagby became a reality with the infcorporation of the Yosemite Valley Railroad in December, 1902. Construction began from Merced in 1905 and by 1906 the rails were laid to Bagby.
Everett Bagby recalls the town was a busy plavce. He was only 7 years old then, buy the memory is more vivid because "I used to ride on the work trains".
There was no school in town then and Bagby and his sister were taught at home to read, write and ciper.
"Week after week after week," recalld Bagby, "I was given a sack lunch and rode the work trans during construction of the line.
"I rode the trains out in the morning and returned with the engine crew at the end of a working day. Somethiems I got to toot the whilstle. Once in a while my sister went with me."
This last big dam went the way of the other small dams before it. Before it gave way September 4, 1921, it constantly was damaged by the swift current. Holes appeared in it, recalls Everett Bagby, befire it fainlly collapsed. Also it was subjected to lumber scavengers. Only a small part of its foundation timbers remain.
The power house and bridge were destroyed by fire July 14, 1922. Some houses also were destroyed.
other Bagby buildings include a grocery store and safe, the old hotel and a few other structures. The settlements' population is 13 and most of these still are looking for gold.
The town's postoffice ceased operating years ago. The few townspeople now gather around the store every morning waiting for the star route delivery truck to bring the mail.
highway 49 will be relocated 700 yards downstream. A 700 foot long bridge will span the reservoir over the community, 50 feet below the surface.
Plans call for a view site and roadside rest. Possibly a plaque will mark the historic site. Its epitaph could well be the remark of a Bagby resident who prophetically observbed when the last dam was nearing completions in 1901.
"It's said that after the dam is completed a number of rowboats and a sailing craft will be put on the lake formed by the dam. It will then be an ideal spot for a day's outing."
July 28, 1966
NEW BRIDGE - A BAGBY REQUIEM