Sunday, November 23, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Lake Berryessa memories and the lost town of Monticello

Left, Devil's Gate, where the dam was constructed, middle, the Glory Hole, right, Tony Wade at Lake Berryessa in 1994

Left, Devil's Gate, where the dam was constructed, middle, the Glory Hole, right, Tony Wade at Lake Berryessa in 1994

By
From page A2 | April 18, 2014 |

“Going to the lake” – the lake in this context being Lake Berryessa – elicits lots of memories of carefree fun for me, including:

Numerous trips with Debbie Phillips, Phil Olivares, John Nolan, Kathleen Mahoney and others in the early 1980s, listening to John Cougar’s “American Fool.”

Going to Oak Shores with Ben Kusaka, Darin Kermoade and Sue Brewer on July 4, 1985, when we started a fire with a sign reading “No Fires” and got busted by the boat police – on the shore.

One time with Ben and Darin marveling as squirrels ate from our hands – then returning from a swim and discovering a swarm of them eating every scrap of food we’d brought.

My favorite thing: Floating on an inner tube with the sun’s scorching rays on my face, tempered by the sweet coolness of the lake.

One thing that never crossed my mind while at Berryessa was the fact that in order to dam it up, the valley may have once been someone’s home.

Monticello Dam is named after the city of Monticello, which ceased to exist once the 300-foot structure was erected.

The federal government paid the 300 residents of Monticello pennies on the dollar for their rich farmland, as it had been condemned. Everything taller than 5 feet – including houses and enormous oak trees that had been used as landmarks in maps – was removed. Even family grave plots were displaced.

To get perspective, check out the book “Death of a Valley,” by Dorothea Lange and Pirkle Jones, which chronicled, in haunting black-and-white photos, the end of the city of Monticello and the birth of Lake Berryessa.

On Nov. 7, 1957, the Monticello Dam was completed. Whether for irrigation or recreation, water from the enormous reservoir helped to shape Solano County.

Other locals shared Lake Berryessa memories:

JoAnn Hinkson Beebe: My dad decided to help move the graveyard before they flooded Monticello. He thought it would be a good way to earn extra cash. Once he found out he had to have cholera shots, he decided no money was worth the risk.

Linda Ueki Absher: I was literally the only senior in school during senior cut day, when everyone else was at Berryessa – even my sister, who wasn’t even close to being a senior.

Clifford Tillotson: Prior to the flooding of the valley, I was in charge of a crew that transported the entire cemetery to a new location. The laborers would dig down to and around the caskets, using pick axes and shovels. We had one man raise his axe and attached were false teeth – he came out of that hole running. I never could get him back to work.

Clark Henderson: One time, camping at Berryessa when I was about 10 years old, I headed into an outhouse and took a seat, only to discover a rattler had found his way in and was curled up on the floor. Fortunately I had not locked the door, or my leap from the seat while pulling up my shorts and falling out the door would have not gone so well.

Gail Reed-Bond: When I was a sophomore, my boyfriend and I headed to Berryessa. We climbed up a hill to make out. All was nice and comfy until we heard rustling nearby. My heart was pounding because all I could think of was my mama telling me to never go anywhere isolated because of the Zodiac killer. Thank God, it was only a big old bull grazing. That big old bull scared the heebie-jeebies out of me, but I was still thankful it wasn’t the Zodiac.

Paula Lindsey: My parents had a place at Markley Cove and once I remember as we drove past a cove on the highway side of Markley, I saw swimmers jumping up out of the water. My friend gave out a whoop. I asked to know what happened as he gave my dad the signal to circle back, which he did and it happened again. I should add that I’m practically blind without my glasses, so I never saw their lack of swimming attire. Dad must have thought it was great fun because he circled back a couple more times.

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at toekneeweighed@gmail.

Tony Wade

Tony Wade

Tony Wade is the slightly older yet infinitely more handsome brother of long-time DR columnist Kelvin Wade
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