Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

The California Powder Works Dam
by Barry Brown

Photograph of the CPW Dam
The CPW Dam
Photograph from the Peyton Family Collection

In 1863, when part of the Rancho del Rincon was acquired by the CPW from Isaac E. Davis and Albion P. Jordan, the CPW also obtained the rights to construct a dam, flume and tunnel on adjacent property to the north in what is now Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. These structures were designed to divert the waters of the San Lorenzo River into the CPW to drive the machinery.

The dam raised the water high enough to fill a ground level flume which carried the water south to the tunnel entrance 800yds. away. Once in the 1200ft. long tunnel, the water traveled downhill through limestone and granite until it surged from the hillside into a raised flume for distribution throughout the Works. With a 60ft. drop in elevation, gravity provided plenty of power to drive the Mill’s machinery year round. However, in the summer when the river was low, the CPW sometimes had to divert all the San Lorenzo River water into the flume in order to keep the machinery operating.

The old Dam site can be found today by traveling up Route 9 from Paradise Park and stopping at the Rincon Fire Road parking lot. Walk down the fire road to where it meets the river, then north to where the road meets the Diversion Dam Trail. Note the remnants of the old wooden flume which remain along the hill side of the trail. Then take the trail west until you come upon the 40ft. concrete jetty sticking out into the river. This is where the Powder Works’ dam once stood.

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View similarly tagged articles:

dynamite, powder works, San Lorenzo River


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