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The land upon which Finnon Lake now lies was at one time a meadow area. Depending on what research resource is used the land was either owned by brothers, last name of Finnon who were Scottish immigrants, or one Christopher Finnan, an Irishman. The original property was used for farming/ranching and a saw mill was located there as well. Whether Finnon or Finnan the land was eventually sold to a famous pair of California brothers, and their company.
(THE TOPO MAP COMES FROM THE HISTORICAL ARCHIVES OF THE US GEOLOGICAL SURVEY, DATED 1893. THE AREA WITH THE RED X IS THE FUTURE LOCATION OF FINNON LAKE.)
Those brothers were Mortimer and Herbert Fleishhacker. Born to a paper box manufacturer in San Francisco in the latter half of the 19th century these two brothers would become financially and politically important. If you’re old enough you may recall, or may have visited, the world famous Fleishhacker pool in San Francisco. It was 1000 feet long, 150 feet wide and held 6 million gallons of sea water which was heated. Supposedly the largest pool ever built and visible from space. Life guards used row boats in their patrols.
In 1903 the Fleishhackers formed the American River Electric Company. As their company grew and additional sources of hydroelectric power were needed the two brothers' company purchased, in 1905, the property the Finnon/Finnan clan owned. Soon thereafter the construction of the earthen dam began.
(Postcard, taken from south side of river, ca. late 1890s)
The water the dam held back was used to “power start” the powerhouse generator which was located at the confluence of Rock Creek and the South Fork of the American River. Rock Creek was so named by Kit Carson as he explored the area in 1844. An earlier powerhouse was located at the same site in 1893, the Fleishhacker’s newer powerhouse went into operation in 1907 after completion of the dam and lake.
Water from the lake would flow into Jaybird Creek and into a penstock that would carry the water the nearly 1.75 miles to the powerhouse.
(THE OLD POWERHOUSE ca. 1890’s, unknown photographer.)
Shortly after this the American River Electric Company was bought by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). PG&E owned the Finnon Dam and Reservoir until 1956 at which time they sold it to the State of California. California’s Wildlife Conservation Board had the Finnon Lake area rejuvenated and in cooperation with El Dorado County a concession business began. Fishing, boating and camping came into being.
Prior to 1997 the dam was considered, by the State, to be unsafe in the event of a substantial earthquake. As the State did not wish to expend the necessary funds to replace the dam they sold the property to the Mosquito Volunteer Fire Association (MVFA) for $1.00.
For several years the MVFA attempted to secure funding to have the dam replaced. Fortunately for the MVFA they met one Mark Egbert. Mr. Egbert is the District Manager for the El Dorado County and Georgetown Divide Resource Conservation Districts. His perseverance, commitment , and knowledge, helped the MVFA obtain a grant from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to replace the dam.
(Photo of old fiberglass boat from concessionaire's rental that was at Finnon decades ago. Boat appeared after the lake was drained empty. Photo is ©.)
Main St, Placerville ca. 1866
This video shows the first water to breech the dam's spillway in more than 20 years. It took two decades to have the dam replaced. Thanks to the hard work of Mark Egbert, of the El Dorado County and Georgetown Divide Resource Conservation Districts, who put into motion the efforts to receive a grant from the state to get the project funded and done.
This is an 8 minute, 13 second collage of the dam replacement. Without this replacement Finnon would have remained a pond and eventually a puddle.
when the lake was emptied was in pretty good shape considering it was sitting at the bottom of the lake for who knows how many decades. Made of fiberglass the stern was cracked, which may have been the reason it sank. An idea came to mind that the old boat could be used as 'a yard art' flower planter box to spruce up the entrance to the cafe and pavilion.
That idea was passed on to the then chair of the board that administers the property. A resolute "no" was the chair's reply. What a visionary! No reason was given for the no reply so the boat lay were it sanked.
So, from laying flat on the lake's bottom, to the moving of earth by equipment, the boat began to suffer. Mounds of dirt were being piled near its starboard beam. A dirt road paralleled its port side. It lay in the rubble caused by the dam's replacement.
Eventually the large construction equipment would drive over it obliterating the fiberglass into splintered remnants of what it once was.
Too bad as it would have been a nice visual reminder of the lake's history that would have cost nothing more than a person saying "yes".