Thursday, April 24, 2014

Portraits of the Past: Water for Davis

drilling rigW

"First well driven by Jesse Gray Rowe on University Farm, 1907" is the caption to this photo from the collection of (James) Gray Rowe of Davis, whose father and grandfather (Jesse Gray Rowe Jr. and Sr.) engaged in the well-boring and plumbing business. The senior Rowe is pictured at center. The possibility exists that this photo was taken in 1908 when the seedhouse was constructed, or in about 1910 when the first poultry buildings were built. Courtesy photo

* Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Davis Enterprise on Aug. 13, 1970. Joann Leach Larkey is a noted local historian and the author of “Davisville ‘68,” which she recently revised for a new edition. Copies of the book may be purchased at The Avid Reader, City Hall and the Hattie Weber Museum of Davis. The full set of 164 Larkey articles is available for reading at the museum, 445 C St. Some will be republished in the coming weeks/months in The Davis Enterprise.

The availability of an adequate water supply was the key factor in the selection of a Yolo County site for the University State Farm, authorized by legislation signed by Gov. George Pardee on March 18, 1905. As stated in the St. Helena Star and several other Northern California newspapers on March 24, 1905, “The State Agricultural Farm will soon be seeking a location, and interest is naturally being aroused in the sections that may present claims for it.

“One of the principal claimants for favorable consideration in Yolo County, which is in the heart of the great Sacramento Valley, and which presents a chain in favoring circumstances, natural and geographical, that point to her as being an ideal county in which this State Institution may well find a home.

“The bill provides that the farm shall be located in a section where may be obtained first-class tillable land, and where location, climate and general environment is typical and representative of the best general agricultural conditions of California, and that at least one-half of the tract chosen shall be susceptible of irrigation, and under an irrigation system already established.

“All of these conditions and requirements are met within Yolo County. Her fertility is a matter of wonder to travelers, and her climate is typical of California, and she is not surpassed anywhere, the riparian rights to the never failing Cache Creek having long been established. The people of that section are taking a lively interest in the farm, in fact, her representatives in the legislature have fathered the bill which finally passed that body. It was due to the activity of her delegates to both the Republican and Democratic conventions last fall that those conventions inserted a plank in their platform endorsing an Agricultural Farm.

“In Yolo County there are not less than a dozen sites that meet all requirements of the bill, and the commission should give them careful attention.”

Editorial comment in The Davisville Enterprise of March 25, 1905, wholeheartedly concurred with these statements and asked readers “Why not Davisville be prepared with several sites for the commission to choose from?” Consequently, a mass meeting of local citizens was held in the Davisville courtrooms on the following Thursday, March 30, and a seven-man committee was selected to promote location of the state’s newly created farm school on a 730-acre tract west of town, then owned by Martin V. Sparks.

The contributions of this citizens committee and Davisville’s first Chamber of Commerce in the successful promotion of the proffered Davisville site for the University State Farm is a story in itself. Acquisition of options on property and water rights and the publication of a promotional pamphlet, titled “An Ideal Spot for A University Farm,” were important factors in the commission’s final decision on April 6, 1906.

In this 20-page booklet, widely circulated among decision-making legislators and commission members, assurances were made of adequate irrigation water from Cache Creek via the Yolo Consolidated Water Company’s canal. And, as if to emphasize this crucial condition in the selection of a site location, the cover design featured a garden path leading down to a picturesque lake on which a sailboat drifted lazily in the breeze.

It is interesting to note that while promoters of the Davisville site were successful in their bid for the University State Farm, students on the Davis campus did not enjoy the advantages of boating on “Lake Putah” until 1969, when portions of the North Fork of Putah Creek, or Old Putah Creek, were transformed into recreational areas, bordered by plantings of the University Arboretum.

The Regents of the University of California took formal possession of the 779-acre Davisville site at midnight on Aug. 31, 1906, and construction of the first four campus buildings began in the spring of 1907. According to 1908 newspaper account, “Plans for a number of new buildings, including a splendid new water system and sewerage system, have been adopted, and bids will be advertising” for a dairy barn, experimental seedhouse, and blacksmith and carpentry shop.

An additional comment about the water supply stated, “Soon after the University acquired the farm a well was bored near the dairy building, and bids which will be called for shortly will include a provision for a complete and extensive water supply system for the various buildings.”

A 60-foot redwood shingled water tower, located south of the present main library in 1908, became a local landmark for many years to come even though additional wells were drilled as the need arose on the ever-expanding campus that now covers 3,700 acres.

An inter-relationship of water supplies owned separately by the university and the city of Davis could be of distinct mutual advantage in case of emergency, as might have been the case with the recent collapse of one of the city’s 11 water wells. And even today, taxpayers are being asked to ponder the feasibility of the Indian Valley Water Project, which is intended to provide a continued source of water for Cache Creek for the needs of present and future generations.

Joann Leach Larkey


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