A History Behind Shasta Dam’s Essential Role in California Water

In 1938, thousands of hardworking people arrived in rural Shasta County to build a dam and a dream. Shasta Dam brought much-needed work during the Great Depression. The construction of Shasta Dam provided work for 2,700 people, and drastically changed the economy of rural Shasta County. It also provided crucial water storage for the entire state of California.

RELATED: Once a Northern California Boomtown, Now a Sunken City at the Bottom of a Lake

A triumph of human determination and ingenuity, NorCal’s own Shasta Dam was built between 1937 and 1945. The ninth tallest dam in the United States and the biggest reservoir in California, the dam is a great place to take in breathtaking views of Mt. Shasta and enjoy great Spring weather. Sometimes forgotten by locals and visitors alike, the dam and its surroundings provide great photo opportunities, fishing spots, tours and plenty of places to picnic and relax. Though we’ve visited the dam many times before, we recently took a trip to the landmark to rediscover what it’s all about.

Walking on the road atop the dam, and looking down at its massive concrete wall you begin to wonder about its history. How was such a massive thing built? What has this place seen? How did it help shape the history of the area? I surfed the Internet a bit, and made some discoveries.

Proposed in the first quarter of the 20th century, the dam was meant to better manage waterways through droughts and flooding in the central valley. The soon-to-be submerged town of Kennett hosted the dam’s groundbreaking ceremony in 1937.

Before construction could begin, millions of tons of bedrock had to be cleared from the construction site. Workers lived in a nearby site called “Contractor’s Camp,” which was equipped with a huge mess hall, recreation center and hospital. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, many of the workers went off to war causing a shortage of laborers. Women and students filled in, and the dam ended up serving an important role on the eastern front as it provided power to many factories in the central part of the state. Construction wrapped up in 1944, completing the structure nearly 26 months ahead of schedule. Even now, 70 years later, the dam serves a vital role in the regulation of California water.

If you want to learn more about the dam’s history, construction or how it works, there’s a visitor center with helpful information where you can sign up to take a two to three hour tour of the structure. Otherwise, you can go fishing on the banks of Shasta Lake, simply take a stroll with your K-9 buddies or eat lunch on one of the conveniently located picnic tables. It’s a short trip from Redding and surrounding areas, and one that you’ll certainly enjoy.

Here’s a great informational video on the history of the dam:

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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