Who Was Frances? --- Frances Marianna Martin was born in Alabama on December 18, 1888. She was the oldest of John and Abigail Martin's five children. John Martin named Lake Frances after her in 1899, when she was 10 years old. "Francis" has incorrectly been used as the name for the lake and dam over the last 70 years, or so. There are ample records, however, to prove that Frances is the correct name. Frances married Duval Moore. Her daughter, Mavis Moore, now lives in Seattle. James W Martin, MD, now retired, lives in Sacramento. They are cousins and grandchildren of John and Abigail Martin. Mavis will be very happy that the lake, named after her mother, has its correct name again!
Lake Now Correctly Named --- Lake "Francis" Road was quietly renamed Lake "Frances" earlier this year by Yuba County, as evidenced by the new sign at Marysville Road. The Yuba County Water Agency has now finished a brand new dam and will officially name it -- Lake Frances Dam and Lake Frances. The Yuba Electric Power Company was created in early 1899 for the purpose of building the Colgate Powerhouse project. John Martin had contracted to deliver power to the Sacramento electric streetcars and that commitment was met on September 5, 1899. John Martin was the company president and his major partners were Eugene J. de Sabla, Jr. and Romulus Riggs Colgate. They had previously built the Nevada "Rome" Powerhouse in 1896-98, near Nevada City, and the Yuba Powerhouse in 1898, near Browns Valley. Mr. Colgate, a grandson of the founder: of the Colgate Soap Co., was the major investor in all these projects. Colgate was honored by naming the new plant after him and by nicknaming the Nevada plant "Rome" after him. The water for the Colgate plant came from Bullards Bar on the North Yuba River via 8 miles of wooden flume down the steep canyon wall. It was decided to create an emergency water supply should them be problems with the flume. A dam was built above the powerhouse on Dobbins Creek for this purpose. Two years earlier, as part of the expansion of the Nevada "Rome" Powerhouse, a new lake was created and de Sable named it after one of his daughters - Lake Vera. Now, it was Martin's turn to name a lake and he called it -- Lake Frances.
An interesting sidelight is the fact that the original Lake Frances Dam failed a few days after completion. This happened on October 18, 1899 after nine inches of rain in 36 hours. The 50 foot high dam had been rushed to completion without proper compaction of the top layers of earth. The dam was rebuilt in a much more substantial way in 1901-2 using hydraulic sluicing techniques. The rebuilt dam was 77 feet high and held three times as much water as before. The new lake covered 92 acres, more than twice as much as the original. After nearly 100 years of service, this dam has now been completely rebuilt by the Yuba County Water Agency.
Phase two of the Colgate Powerhouse attracted worldwide attention on April 27, 1901, when it delivered power 142 miles away to the electric streetcars in the City of Oakland. This was the longest distance power transmission in the world. Martin, de Sabla and Colgate continued their partnership by building new plants and acquiring gas and electric companies throughout Northern California. Martin and de Sabla would become known as the "fathers of PG&E," when their California Gas and Electric Company purchased the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company in 1905 - giving birth to PG&E.
The original Colgate Powerhouse suffered major fire damage in 1946 and was shut down in 1948. It was completely rebuilt with a state-of-the-art single generator unit in 1949. The present Colgate Powerhouse was completed the Yuba County Water Agency in 1970 through a partnership agreement with PG&E.
The Lake Frances Dam was originally constructed around the turn of the last century using "wagon fill", - soil hauled in by wagons. This dam failed during its first year and was rebuilt using hydraulic fill, or soil washed in by water. This hydraulic fill earthen dam contained a beautiful little lake for nearly 100 years. But then, subsequent to an earthquake near Oroville, CA in 1975, and experiences with similar dams during earthquakes, the State Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) determined than an earthquake could occur that would cause the Lake Frances Dam to fail. As a result, DSOD decreed that the dam must be breached, repaired, or rebuilt.
There was much controversy about the DSOD decision. Engineering studies indicated that a catastrophic failure of the Lake Frances Dam would be unlikely to cause any significant damage. DSOD maintained that this made no difference, rules are rules and the dam must either be fixed, rebuilt, or destroyed. This left the Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA), who owns the dam, on the hems of a dilemma. The little lake was an important public safety and recreational asset to the Foothill Community of Dobbins/Oregon House, but revenues derived from the water would never come close to paying the costs involved in repairing or replacing the dam.
In response to the seemingly inevitable loss of the lake, the people of Dobbins/Oregon House circulated a petition and gathered over 1,000 signatures supporting the saving of Lake Frances. Many citizens testified before the Water Agency directors including retired California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) Battalion Chief Buck Weckman. Mr. Weckman described in detail the strategic value of Lake Frances as a water source and the significance of its location in light of the most likely origins of wildfire. In fact, during the 1997 Williams Fire, a second fire erupted near Lake Frances. It was quickly extinguished using helicopter drops from the lake, avoiding a much worse disaster than actually occurred. Considering these factors, the Water Agency directors placed public safety above economic considerations and authorized reconstruction of the Lake Frances Dam.
The lake was drained and removal of the century old dam began during the spring of 1999. The new dam was to be constructed using soil from the original dam plus additional soil taken from an area at the lake shoreline. A rock toe drain would be added (much like that used on levees in the valley) with a drain chimney extending up through the middle of the dam. The added safety provided by the new dam is achieved by properly compacting the soil used in its embankment.
Many unexpected problems were encountered during the summer of 1999. The most significant of these were the ground water left from the lake in the vicinity of the dam's foundation, and the high moisture content in the soil removed from the old dam. To get the proper compaction in the dam's embankment, the soil had to be dried until the proper moisture content was achieved. The time consumed addressing these problems made it impossible to complete the construction of the new dam during the summer of 1999 before the rainy season began, and completion of the project was delayed by a year.
Construction work began again in the spring of 2000, and the dam was completed that November. To commemorate the completion of the new dam, and to show appreciation to the Yuba County Water Agency, a group of citizens organized a "Bottom of the Lake" pit barbecue and potluck event to be held on Saturday, November 11, 2000. The barbecue was to take place at the upper end of the lakebed, with a Veterans Day opening ceremony held at Lake Frances Resort to honor our Country's Veterans. The weather forced the "Bottom of the Lake" barbecue to take place in the courtyard of the Resort following the Veterans Ceremony and Rededication of the Lake by the Yuba County Water Agency.
The winter of 2000-2001 filled Lake Frances, and it is once again offering some of the best recreational opportunities in the state. Fishing is excellent, and the warm surface waters are wonderful for swimming. It is just the right size for canoeing, and the absence of powerboats and jet skis make for serene relaxation in the midst of a gorgeous natural setting. For people who must travel or those who just wish to spend more than a day at the lake, camping and restaurant facilities are available at the Lake Francis Resort.
All this is again available to the citizens of Yuba County, thanks to the concern of the Yuba County Water Agency directors for public safety in the Dobbins/Oregon House area.