Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press

Building the original Exchequer Dam



Construction on the original Exchequer Dam began in 1924. Bent Bros. was the general contractor of the dam and power house, and F. Rolandi was awarded the contract for the relocation of 16.7 miles of the Yosemite Valley Railroad. In the middle photo above, you can see the railroad in the foreground, and the south spillway excavation at right.

In 1926, after selling bonds totaling $16 million, the district had a completed dam, an expanded canal system and power facilities to show for it.

The concrete gravity arch dam was 310 feet high and 1,200 feet long which impounded 281,200 acre feet in a 14 mile long reservoir. The district’s power facilities consisted of two generators, each had a rated capacity of 15,625 kilowatts.

According to author/historian Kenneth McSwain, arrangements were spearheaded by A.R. Linn, the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, wh was able to see President Coolidge at the White House and obtain the president’s assent to pressing a golden telegraph key that would start the power plant machinery.

The date for the ceremony was June 23, 1926, and the Yosemite Valley Railroad arranged for 16 coaches to take about 1,000 people to the site. The visitors were asked to take their own lunches. Harvey Slocum provided cold drinks, including ice tea, and ice cream.

Promptly at 11 a.m., according to McSwain, President Coolidge pressed the key and the power house lights went on, with cheers from the assemblage standing around.

Speeches were made at the top of the dam, bu thte press was silent as to how many made the 300 foot climb to hear them. Among the speakers were: Lieutenant Governor C.C. Young, MID President C.E. Kocher, Assessor-Collector W. J. Grady, Richard Shaffer, representing the Farm Bureau, and state Attorney General U.S. Webb.

The Times is publishing historical photos and information about the development of irrigation systems, and the growth of the Merced Irrigation District. The district and the Merced County Historical Society are planning a community celebration and exhibit in recognition of MID’s 100-year Anniversary on Nov. 7. The date coincides with the formation of the District: MID was established in November 1919. More information can be found online at: or

Also, if you have a story, a photo or an artifact related to the history of Merced Irrigation District, the organizers of the exhibit want to know about it. Contact Museum Director Sarah Lim at (209) 723-2401 or by email at: [email protected]

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