Time Line: Lake Herman; Paint the Town

Time Line: Lake Herman and The City’s Challenges for Fresh Water

A companion piece for A Treasure In Time by Myra Nissen for Paint The Town/Art and Writing Show at Benicia City Hall, Spring 2018.

1870 – Hastings Mine located at Sulphur Springs Mountain discovered Cinnabar. Sulphur Springs/Sky Valley School was constructed 1 mile West of the current Lake Herman Site.

October 10, 1879 – Benicia Water Company (BWC), capitalized at $30000, organized. Acquired water rights on Paddy Ranch and Sulphur Springs Creek. Water was needed for the tanneries.

1879 – BWC hired a Mr. Delaney to build the Sulphur Spring Dam, pumping plant, and the pipeline to the reservoir on Kaiser Hill.

1880 – Construction of a dam on Paddy Creek. Sulphur Springs/Sky Valley School was moves to just inside the entrance gate of Lake Herman. The Kaiser Hill lot, at East Third and W Streets, was purchased for $50 from a Mr. Kaiser and a reservoir was quickly constructed.

1882 – Reservoir went dry due to the drought from 1882-83 and again in 1887-89, water was brought in by barge.

1883 – Benicia Water Company bought land from DN Hastings Ranch (Sulphur Springs Ranch?) and construction of the Paddy Dam was to begin on the Paddy Creek. The dam was located about five miles northeast of Lake Herman and held back a reservoir of 52-million gallons.

July 5, 1883 – Eliza D. Nichols was the owner of a track to land in Solano County, bordering a natural water course know as “Paddy Ranch creek.” She and her land grantors had for 10 years used the water for domestic purposes. (Nichols is one of the family names of the students who attended the last class of Sky Valley School).

November 5, 1883 – Benicia Water Company desired to construct a reservoir on Paddy creek above the lands from the Nichols. Nichols was granted the right to lay a water pipe for free water for domestic purposes. And the water company would pay reasonable damages to lay a water pip for their use. Agreement was signed by Eliza D. Nichols and Andrew Goodyear, Benicia Water Company Co. president.

1885 – Paddy Reservoir had a 52-million gallon capacity.

April 29, 1989 – Mortgage on Nichols Ranch was foreclosed. The tap to the water to the land was closed on March 29, 1890.

Nov. 10, 1893 – James Clyne v. Benicia Water Co. regarding Water rights to Paddy Creek, water rights restored to the new owner of Nichols Ranch.

April 27, 1901 – Benicia Water Works, Inc. was formed.

1901-913 – Frank Dotta attended and graduated from Sulphur Springs/Sky Valley School, (Dotta is one of the family names of the students who attended the last class of Sky Valley School)

Jan. 24, 1905 – Benicia Water Works, Inc. becomes Benicia Water Works Company.

1905 – Additional land and water rights acquired on Sulphur Springs.

1905 – Herman Schuster engaged to design a dam.

1916 – Chlorination plants were installed at the city reservoir on Kaiser Hill

1917 – More land was acquired in the Lake Herman watershed with the acquisition of the Frank Dotta Ranch.

1923-13 – Another drought and water was bought in by barge.

1926 (?) – Frank Dotta is the keeper of Lake Herman for the Benicia Water Company and also the county weed inspector. (Was Mr. Dotta living in the house by the lake?)

1927 – Hasting’s Quicksilver Company opened a bigger operation, digging 900 feet and accidentally broke into the water source for Blue Rocks Springs. The mistake also sucked Blue Rock Springs dry, the water mixed with mercury and flowed down into Lake Herman contaminating the water, killing shrubs and more than 500 trees at the nearby resort.

1930 – Benicia Water Company purchased by CA Pacific Utilities Company. Blue Rock Springs Resort closed reason cited was “mismanagement.”

1934 – Frank Dotta purchased the Sulphur Springs/Sky Valley School buildings and moved them across the yard, the school became a garage, and the two smaller buildings – one used as a tool shed and one to house the filtering machines for the lake water.

1943/4 – The Lake Herman earth-fill dam was raised by 14 feet, requiring 40,664 cubic feet of excavation doubling the capacity to 840-million gallons supplied by the 10 sq. miles of watershed.

1946 to 1948 – The California Public Utilities Commission secured a source of water from the Suscol Wells on the north side of Suscol Creek, north of Vallejo. The wells had long been a source of water for Vallejo. A pipe was run east from the wells to Highway 29, then south to Highway 37 and east to Lake Herman. The pipeline and an associated pump house cost $150,000. This source of water was used from July 1948 to June 1950. (The pump house is where the water treatment plant is today. I was told by Ms. Phelam that this is the site of Kaiser Hill.)

1953 – Benicia was the only city in the entire Bay system that didn’t have a sewage treatment system.

1950 – 20-yr Contract signed for additional water from Conn Dam in Napa. The caretaker house was built at the lake(?).

April 4, 1957 and May 16, 1957 – Water bond ballot initiatives failed.

Nov. 1958 – the sewer bond passed, the State Department of Water Resources had set a deadline for the city to participate in the state water program.

June 1961 – A water bond was added to the ballot. The sewer system was up and running. Watchie Builders, which was buying ranches to the north and east of Benicia for what would become the Southampton subdivision. Watchie paid half of the water bond price, $500,000.

Sept. 21, 1961 – The water bond issue was voter approved.

1961 – Paddy Creek Dam no longer used.

1962 – The City’s water supply contracts include the State Water Project, a 1962 agreement with the City of Vallejo, a water exchange and a banking arrangement with the Mojave Water Agreement and a settlement agreement with the State.

1965 – Kaiser Hill Reservoir 1965 was torn down as part of the reorganization of the water system and is now a weed-choked vacant lot at the end of a short lane off Corte Dorado Street.

1967 – Sky Valley developers found high levels of mercury near the Hasting’s Mine, some as high as 8,300 parts per million. Landowners were supposed to remove the waste and haul it to Portrero Hills landfill.

1989-90 – Lake Herman Park received fund for parking lot, turf and landscaping.

2001 – Seeno Construction Co. proposed a large business park on Lake Herman Rd.

Sept. 7, 2017 – Lake Herman Dam Emergency Action Planning Under Way.

Today – The current water system includes a storage system of 5 treated water reservoirs and Lake Herman with a capacity of 1,800 acre feet. Signs are there today giving mercury warnings about the game fish from the lake.


Dillon, Richard, Great Expectations : The Story of Benicia, California, Benicia Heritage Book, Incorporated, Richard H. Dillon,Thomas Lithograph and Printing Co., Inc. Fresno, CA, 1980

Dotta Casagranda, Colleen, A History of Sulphur Spring/Sky Valley School. Personal Communication, Beverly Phelam, Curator, Benicia Historical Museum, documents on file. 15 Feb. 2018.

Doyle, Alan, Seeno proposes 285-acre, $180M Benicia project, American City Business Journals. http://www.bizjournals.com., 22 March 2018.

Gafni Matthias, Quicksilver, Vallejo’s history in mining, Times-Herald, 23 July 2007, http://www.timesheraldonline.com, 17 Feb. 2018.

Hunt, Marguerite; Gunn, Harry Lawrence, History of Solano and Napa Counties California; Form Their Earliest Settlement To The Present Time, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1926, v. II.

Knight, Rick, Project Manager, City of Benicia, personal communication, 14 Feb. 2018.

Lessenger, Jim, Water: The story of Benicia’s decades of struggle to secure a reliable source, Benicia Hearald, 11 Feb. 2013, http://beniciaheraldonline.com, 17 Feb. 2018.

The Pacific Reporter, West Publishing Co., St. Paul, 1894, v. 34, p 714-5, Permanent Edition. 17 Feb. 2018. https://books.google.com.

Staff writer, A new state law applies to the Lake Herman Dam in Benicia, city officials say, Patch,https://patch.com. 27 Feb. 2018

Phelam, Beverly, Curator, Benicia Historical Museum personal communication, 21 Feb. 2018.

Pomeroy, C.P., Reports of Cases Determined in The Supreme Court of the State of Carlifornia, Bancroft-Whitney Company Law Publishers and Law Booksellers 1906, v. 100, pp. 310 -316, 20 Mar. 2018. https://books.google.com.

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