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cover photo: Copco No. 1 Construction, at Dam Site, looking upstream, 1916 (Source: PacifiCorp Archive)

originally published June, 2003 in KLAMATH HYDRO PROJECT, FERC #2082, historic context statement…

text to audio version

This study was commissioned by PacifiCorp as an element in its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process for the Klamath Hydroelectric Project. It has been prepared under contract to CH2M-Hill by George Kramer, M.S., a cultural resource historian with extensive background in the southern Oregon/northern California region and the history of the hydroelectric industry in the greater west. Preliminary fieldwork was undertaken in Fall 2002 and the majority of this document was drafted in Spring of 2003.

“The history of southern Oregon and northern California is closely linked with that of the California Oregon Power Company. This company, with home offices in at Medford…serves this area, extending 275 miles in length and 100 miles in width, embracing 54 cities and communities, Oregon Journal, 4-June-1939”

The Klamath Hydroelectric Project is located within a two-county, two-state region that straddles the Oregon-California border. Klamath County and the city of Klamath Falls, in southern Oregon, and the area surrounding Yreka in northern Siskiyou County, California have long been joined by a range of interests, economic ties, and inter-related concerns that ignore the geopolitical boundary that places the two areas under the jurisdiction of different state governments. Historically, especially during the mid-19th century settlement period, Klamath and Siskiyou counties, along with other nearby areas, promoted serious effort toward seccession from their respective states to create an new unified entity, long dubbed the “State of Jefferson,” that reflects these shared ties.

Figure 1: “Copcoland” 1926, showing the Klamath River facilities then in operation (Source; The Volt Annual, Dec 1926, annotated)

“The concept of a “State of Jefferson” was first formally revealed in 1852 when a bill was introduced in the California State Legislature meeting at Vallejo. This bill died in committee and the proposal was never acted upon. The issue, however, was far from over (Rock, 1998).”

Various other attempts at formation of the State of Jefferson continued through the late 19th century, coupled with California-led efforts to create a state named “Shasta” and southern Oregonian-led efforts to create a state named Siskiyou, which had a abortive start in 1909. The most recent attempt to form the State of Jefferson, in 1941, was based upon a joint Oregon-California effort that stemmed at root from frustration over the poor roads in the area and the feeling that disinterest from Salem and Sacramento was the primary cause. Garnering national coverage after the Yreka Chamber of Commerce voted to “investigate the possibility of forming a new state” on November 18, 1941, the secession movement benefited greatly from coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle, who sent Stanton Delaplane, then a young reporter, north to cover the action 1.

  1. The 1941 effort reached a crescendo when partisans blockades US Highway 99 at the entrance to the new “State” and offered passports to motorists passing through. This publicity stunt, while successful, was poorly timed in early December and was soon pushed off the front page by the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry in WWII. Today the “State of Jefferson” survives as a local marketing vechicle, with parades in Klamath County and various local businesses that serve the region incorporating the concept into their name. The most prominent of these is the National Public Radio affiliate at Southern Oregon University, dubbed Jefferson Public Radio, which broadscasts throughout the entire area, from Lakeview to the coast and from Redding to Roseburg.

With the development of the California-Oregon Power Company and its successors as the dominant provider of electric power throughout almost all of the State of Jefferson the area was also often known as “Copcoland.” As a locally-based corporation that maintained a very visible, and influential, position throughout its service area, with local leaders on its board and in its employ, Copco was typical of the almost paternalistic corporate mentality of this period in power generation. Advertising materials produced by the company included a monthly publication entitled The Volt and the Copco Current Event Newsreels, produced by company employee Horace Bromley between 1925 and 1936. The newsreels documented life and important events throughout the service area and supported Copco’s role as a unifying presence throughout its bi-state, multicounty service area.

“[T]he Copco films enjoyed immense popularity and were much in demand for viewing at gatherings of all sorts” (Alley, 1998:26).

  1. TEMPORAL BOUNDARIES — 1902-1958
    The historic development of hydroelectricity within the Klamath River region began in 1891 with pioneer developments in Yreka, followed shortly by those in Klamath Falls. As these small and earlier plants were serially upgraded and eventually replaced, the oldest standing facilities remaining in the project date from 1902-1903 and the development of the Fall Creek Power Plant. Standard National Register evaluation would typically establish a 50year requirement for consideration of potential historic significance. For the Kamath Project, based upon the renewal period under the present FERC operation license which lasts until 2006, the temporal boundary would be 1956. However, given the particular history of the generation facilities that constitute the Klamath Project today, which were initially envisioned as a river-wide system by 1911, the temporal boundaries are extended to 1958, so as to include the development of the Big Bend Hydroelectric Plant (now John Boyle) and its related structures, all of which will meet the so-called 50-year rule within two years of the new license period. The Boyle project, envisioned as an original element in the system, represent the first of Copco’s post-war expansions of the Klamath Project, and were built in response to the growth in demand and population that characterized the service area during that period. Iron Gate Dam was completed in 1962, after the end of the Copco period. As described in Section 2, at the various dedication ceremonies for its plants, Copco developments were applauded by elected officials and dignitaries from both Oregon and California, with pennants or flags representing not only the two states but each of the counties within the Copcoland service area.

As described in Section 2, at the various dedication ceremonies for its plants, Copco developments were applauded by elected officials and dignitaries from both Oregon and California, with pennants or flags representing not only the two states but each of the counties within the Copcoland service area.

To be continued

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