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Union / Utica Water Company

historic photo of creek
View of a segment of the Union ditch above Murphys in the early 1900s (Courtesy Calaveras County Historical Society).

 Union Water Company

The development of hydroelectric power from the Stanislaus River was made possible by the extensive water conveyance and storage facilities constructed to deliver water to mining operations. Gold was discovered on the flat below what soon became the town of Murphys Camp as early as 1848.  Except during the rainy season and spring, the diggings were often dry, with too little water available to wash gold from the gravels.  A few springs provided enough water for eating and bathing purposes, and when dammed, a small pond for panning the gold (Wood 1952:15), but by 1850 the horde of miners who had poured into the area began to look for additional sources to provide a year-round supply of water. Plausible sources were the creeks and rivers higher in the foothills, principally Angels Creek and its tributaries and the North Fork Stanislaus River.  One of the earliest companies to bring water to the rich gravels on Murphys Flat was the Union Water company, was organized in Murphys in January 1852.


The Union Water Company was formed as a combined effort of two rival companies that had begun construction of water systems in 1851 to bring water to the miners.  One group planned to tap the waters of Angels Creek (Murphys Creek) about two miles above Murphys, and convey water along the hillsides to Owlsborough and Murphys Flat.  Another group planned to bring water from Love Creek, 14 miles above Murphys, and convey it through flumes and ditches to Angels Creek, delivering it to the diggings on Murphys Flat (Bishop 1980:7). 

The first fountainhead of the Union Water Company Ditch was located at the junction of Union (later called Love) and Sawmill (later called Moran Creek, feeding Mill Creek) creeks, about 10 miles above Murphys where a small dam and reservoir were built (Bishop 1980:5).  Sawmills, blacksmiths, construction camps, and tender houses were built adjacent to the watercourse to provide lodging for the workers who built and maintained the ditches, flumes, and reservoirs.

In addition to the reservoir on Sawmill (Mill) Creek, two others were constructed:  one about seven miles above Murphys (probably at the present Red Apple, and another about nine miles above on Mill (Moran) Creek.  Water was released from the main reservoir to the dam at the head of Angels Creek and then into the bed of the creek, following the natural channel to Murphys.  The conveyance system branched near the foot of the canyon:  one branch continued down the creek to the diggings on Murphys Flat, then on to Red Hill; the other swung out through Owlsborough (the mining area which stretched from the present Masonic Hall in Murphys northerly to the Oro y Plata mine) before reaching Murphys Flat (Bishop 1980:9).

Hydraulic and Financial Expansion and Difficulties

Numerous troubles beset the company and crew, not the least of which were storms which destroyed many flumes.  The main problem, however, was the lack of enough financing to complete the water system. Work came to a halt for awhile, but the system was finally completed, bringing water to Murphys in 1853 (Noyes n.d.:82).  That same year, utilizing the bed of Angels Creek southwest of Murphys, the ditch was extended to Washington Flat and Angels Camp.  One of the branches, the North Ditch, coursed westerly from the fountainhead on Angels Creek near the old Utica Powerhouse to the Oro Y Plata mine, and, via suspension flume to the Central Hill Mine (present Murphys sewer ponds), and, after the suspension flume collapsed, by siphon.

The first fountainhead of the Union Ditch system was dug from Angels Creek near present La Honda along the hillside to supply water to Altaville (Cherokee Flat) and Angels Camp to run several quartz mills.  The original ditch conveyed water to the Wooster Reservoir, located west of the Wooster/Demarest/California Electric Steel Foundry (Angels Towne Shopping Center), where a branch ditch ran down the ridge to Angels Camp to supply the overshot wheels at the mills.  Another branch (CA-CAL-1374H) coursed southerly to the Gold Cliff Mine and others along its route. 

1870s and 1880s:  Expansion and Sale of the Union Water Company

In 1859, John Kimball and Ephraim Cutting, residents of Murphys, purchased the reservoir rights and a steam sawmill built in 1855 at the present Hunter Reservoir.  Kimball and Cutting became the major stockholders of the Union Water Company in the 1870s and the system was greatly expanded under their leadership.  In 1883, improvements were made to the Union or High Reservoir, which was rebuilt that year with granitic boulders lined with concrete at a cost of $13,927.00 (Cutting 1959:3-4), storing more water for the now-booming hydraulic mining industry, especially along the Central Hill Channel east of Altaville.

The new Union Company flume, built in 1875 with a grade of 25 feet to the mile, measured 2½ by 4 feet and was made of 1½-inch lumber, carrying 2000 inches of water.  The ditches were 4 to 5 feet wide and 2½ feet deep (Cutting 1959:4, 5).  From Hunter Reservoir the system water was taken to the head of Coyote Creek and then in three directions by ditch and creek to supply Murphys, Angels Camp, Smith’s Flat, Dogtown, Hawkeye Ranch, and intermediate points.  Douglas Flat, Vallecito, and Carson Hill were also supplied by a branch of the ditch (Cutting 1959:6). The ditch followed the course of the North Ditch and the present UPA system (Angels Canal) from the fork at the headwaters of Peppermint Creek (where a new ditch had been constructed to connect the CCWC canal to the original Union system) to the present Murphys Forebay area. 

Utica Gold Mining Company

The Utica Mine was first worked in the 1850s, but was consolidated with other Angels Camp mines by Walter S. Hobart, Alvinza Hayward, and Charles Lane in the early 1880s.  The Utica Company became by far the most powerful entity in Calaveras County, with its extensive holding of other mining operations (the Madison, Gold Cliff, Stickles, and others), its purchase of the Union Water Company, which supplied most of Calaveras County with water and early electricity, and with its ore reserves.

Water over Dam Alpine
One of the first actions after the Utica take over was to dam the waters of Silver Creek, creating Alping Lake, in 1889 (Courtesy Murphys Old Timers Museum).

It was during Utica ownership that most of the major expansion of, and improvements to, the flumes, ditches, and reservoirs were made.  Two major reservoirs still in the Utica system (FERC 2019), Silver Valley (Alpine) and Utica, were added during this time and early experimentation in hydroelectric power generation was begun.

System Changes

The Utica Company, requiring ever more water, dammed the waters of Silver Creek to create Silver Valley Reservoir in 1889-1892 (Alpine Lake).  The Utica Gold Mining Company, still capitalizing on the name Union Water Company at times, continued improving their investments by enlarging Union Reservoir in 1901-1902 and raising the Silver Valley (Alpine) Dam in 1903-1906 (Hobart Estate Company et al. 1933:1).  They also constructed a new dam, the Utica, in 1905, enlarging it in 1908-1910.  Cement used to build Utica Dam was shipped by railroad to Angels Camp, hauled by four- and six-horse teams to the Stone House at Silver Valley for storage.  The old road (Slick Rock Road) that runs by the Stone House was used to haul supplies into the Utica work site (Bishop 1980, Joe Land, personal communication 1965), and continued to be PG&E’s maintenance access road until the North Fork Project (FERC 2409) improved as 7N01 a few years ago.

Angels Forebay, Pipe Reservoir Complex, Angels Diversion Dam (CA-CAL-1277H)

Earlier and closer to the mines, other dams were constructed at lower elevations to form new reservoirs:  Ross Reservoir on the Ross Ranch (French Gulch Road ) in 1893-1896; Pipe Reservoir, Angels Forebay, and Angels Diversion Dam in 1894-1895; and Lane Reservoir above Altaville in 1894-1895 (Hobart Estate Company et al. 1933:4). 

 Hydroelectric Power Plants

historic photo of plant
Utica Gold Mining Co., constructed a power plant on Murphys Creek in 1899 (Courtesy Calaveras County Historical Society).

Besides providing water to the Utica Gold Mining Company, the water of the Utica neẻ Union Canal powered a hydro plant to supply the mine with the first electricity produced in Calaveras County.  By the mid-1890s the Utica Mine, under the ownership of Lane, Hayward, and Hobart, had become one of the most successful mines in the United States.  In order to become fully industrialized, however, they needed electric power, and the promoters saw a way to obtain that with their vast ditch and flume system.  Powerhouses were constructed at Murphys (1896, 1899) and on Angels Creek (1900) in Angels Camp, delivering the first electricity to the Utica Mine and Angels Camp.  The Angels Powerhouse was upgraded again in 1903 by the Utica Company’s subsidiary, the Stanislaus Electric Power Company.

The Closing Days

The Union Water Company was dissolved May 3, 1904, 50 years from its date of incorporation.  At this time the Hobart Estate Company owned one-third of the capital stock and the Utica Gold Mining Company owned two-thirds (Deed Book 47:264).  The flumes, but not ditches, were enlarged to their present capacity of 88 cubic feet per second (cfs) in 1912-1913, after the Union Water Company was sold by its trustees to the Hobart Estate Company and the Utica Gold Mining Company for “$10 and valuable considerations” (Deed Book 59:426).  Many of the mines in Angels Camp closed during World War I, and the Utica Mine was shut down forever in 1915; only the Gold Cliff ever reopened (Leonard 1968:2-4).  The Utica Company, however, continued making improvements to their water system, and installed a hydroelectric power plant in Angels at the site of the old water compressor plant; the plant then paralleled with the Murphys Plant and power was sold in the communities for domestic, industrial, and mining purposes, together with whole power sold to PG&E. 

In 1923, the Utica Company also constructed a concrete dam at the Utica Intake Diversion (Angels Diversion) to replace the seasonal rock and cement bag dams (Jack Voitich, personal communication 1991), as well as building Spicer Meadow Reservoir on Highland Creek in 1927-1928, and a new Hunter Dam on Mill Creek in 1927.  Spicer Meadow Reservoir, originally meant to contain 9000 acre-feet of water, had an option to build a 62,000 acre-foot reservoir.  This latter option was completed in 1990 as part of the North Fork Project (FERC 2409). 

By 1931 the North, South, and Gold Cliff ditches were no longer maintained by the company, and with few mine consumers for their water, the Utica Mining Company began negotiating agreements with various water users’ associations for delivery of water for agricultural and domestic purposes.  During the 1930s they signed agreements with the Angels Ditch Water Users Association, the Calaveras Water Users Association, and the Bret Harte Sanitarium in Murphys, signaling a shift from the importance of mining to that of agricultural and residential use (Utica Mining Company 1929).

When the water rights from the Stanislaus River via Angels Creek were finally adjudicated in 1929, water from Angels Creek through the Eureka/Andrew Lee Ditch, Richards Ditch, Massoni Brothers Ditch, Gibson/Rolleri Ranch Ditch, and the Taylor/Bacigalupi Ditch was granted to the ranchers at their termination points (Miscellaneous Book F:491).  At the height of the Depression in the 1930s, the Utica cut off the water supply to the North and South ditches. The domestic water users in Murphys and Angels Camp filed a lawsuit, which was won by the Utica Company.  PG&E, however, honored the old claims, and several of the Union/Utica systems, including the Jupiter/Dogtown Ditch, McElroy/Union Ditch, Torrey/Utica Ditch, Gold Cliff Ditch, the South Ditch, and others continued in operation through the 1940s and 1950s (Jack Voitich, Bob Schmauder, Loren Whittle, Raulin Lagomarsino, personal communications var.), when segments were abandoned or washed out. 

In 1940 the Utica Gold Mining Company’s power and water properties were segregated from its mining properties and operations of the former were continued under the name of the Utica Power Company, a joint venture of the Hobart Estate Company and Emma Rose.  The Utica Company served the mines at Melones and Sheep Ranch and the communities of Murphys and Angels Camp, commissioning the new Angels Powerhouse in 1940 during the height of that era’s hard rock mining boom. At that time the four redwood penstocks from the Forebay were replaced by a steel pipe.  When the last of the mines closed in 1942, the company lost their major customers and began negotiating with PG&E (Oliver Garcia, personal communication 1991).  In 1946 the entire system was purchased by PG&E for $250,000, thus ending almost a century of use by, or expressly for, mining interests (PG&E 1947). 


By Judith Marvin, 2009

Study completed as part of Angels Hydroelectric Project, National Register of Historic Places Evaluations. Conducted by Judith Marvin, Foothill Resources, Ltd., for the Utica Power Authority, 2009.


Bishop, Frances, 1980.  The Union Water Company.  Unpublished manuscript on file, Foothill Resources, Ltd., Murphys, California. 

Cutting, Ephraim,  1959           .  The Union Water Company in 1884.  Las Calaveras 8(1):2-4.  Calaveras County Historical Society, San Andreas.

Hobart Estate Company and Emma Rose Operating as Utica Mining Company,  1933.  State of California Board of Equalization, Valuation Division, Return and Informal Statement.  On file, Utica Power Authority Office, Angels Camp, California. 

Noyes, Leonard W., n.d.  Journal and Letters (1850s and 1880s).  Manuscripts on file, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts and Calaveras County Museum and Archives, San Andreas, California.

Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), 1947          Utica Agreements.  On file at PG&E Mother lode Hydro Generation Offices, Angels Camp, California. 

Utica Mining Company, 1929.  Map Showing Ditch System of Utica Mining Company Below Murphys Plant and Lands Irrigated, Calaveras County, California.  Utica Mining Company. 

Wood, R. Coke

1952    Murphys, Queen of the Sierra.  Oldtimer's Museum, Murphys. 

1955    Calaveras, the Land of Skulls.  Mother Lode Press, Sonora.

1968    XXX (Silver Lake Valley)