CANYON FERRY, HAUSER & HOLTER DAMS


TWO CANYON FERRY DAMS

PART I -- BEFORE THE DAMS

1870s View of the Missouri River and Canton Valley
Looking South from Near Avalance Creek


COURTESY OF DAN DUKE

Now submerged beneath the waters of Canyon Ferry Lake, this was the beautiful landscape through which the westward-bound Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery passed in July of 1805. The village of Canton, Montana, just north of Townsend, was abandoned and subsequently flooded by the second Canyon Ferry Dam in 1954.

The land shown is the Thomas Cooney ranch. The Cooneys, a notable Helena pioneer family, had the distinction of having to twice move their ranch house to escape rising Canyon Ferry Dam waters. In 1898, they moved to escape Lake Sewell, the modest lake formed by the first Canyon Ferry Dam. In 1949, construction of the massive new dam required a second move to even higher ground.



Area Gold Mining

Early Photograph of White's City


COURTESY OF DAN DUKE

White's City was a small placer mining settlement in the Big Belt Mountains, thirteen miles east of the present-day Canyon Ferry Dam.

By 1865, gold was being recovered from numerous stream-bottoms in Big Belt mountain gulches east of the Missouri River, and was also being found in gravel bars along the river, most abundantly at French Bar, located 1.25 miles below the present dam.

Among the men who mined the riverbanks for gold was Thomas Cooney, Jr., son of the pioneer rancher. Tom Jr. is shown below with his under-construction gold dredge "The Emma". Workers can be seen on the frame of the dredge....


Thomas Cooney, Jr.



COURTESY OF DAN DUKE

Thomas Cooney was a rancher, miner, and served as Lewis & Clark County Commissioner.

 

"The Emma" Under Construction


COURTESY OF DAN DUKE

 


"The Emma" At Work


COURTESY OF DAN DUKE



COURTESY OF DAN DUKE

 

The Thomas Cooney Ranch House at Magpie Gulch


COURTESY OF DAN DUKE


The Ferry


THE RAY AND PHIL JEZICK COLLECTION, COURTESY OF CHUCK JEZICK
CLICK ON IMAGE FOR A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

 


THE RAY AND PHIL JEZICK COLLECTION, COURTESY OF CHUCK JEZICK
CLICK ON IMAGE FOR A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

 

1952 History of Canyon Ferry, Spotlighting the Sheriff Family
from the Independent Record
CLICK ON IMAGE TO OPEN PDF FILE

 


PART II -- THE FIRST CANYON FERRY DAM, 1898


Built by
Samuel T. Hauser

(1833-1914)

The first Canyon Ferry Dam on the Missouri River, ca. 1900

Built by Samuel Hauser's Missouri River Power Company from 1896-98, this dam generated 7,500 kilowatts of electricity for Helena and much of central Montana. The reservoir created by the dam was dubbed Lake Sewell,

 

 

Another view of the first Canyon Ferry Dam.



A better view of the Canyon Ferry Dam powerhouse.



A Picnic at Canyon Ferry Dam, ca. 1900


COURTESY OF THE DAVID POOR COLLECTION • CLICK ON IMAGE FOR A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

 

CANYON FERRY BRIDGE
1901-1950


COURTESY OF DAN DUKE

1906 photo of Fred Cooney leading horses across the Canyon Ferry bridge.

The bridge, which replaced the old ferry in 1901, was located just below the first dam. It was dismantled in May of 1950, and the site is now under water.



COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

Canyon Ferry bridge, 1947.

 

 


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

Old buildings at Canyon Ferry, 1947.

 



COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG

The Canyon Ferry Bridge in the rising waters of the new lake, probably early 1950.



PART III -- BUILDING THE PRESENT DAM
1949-1954

On May 24, 1949, construction of the present Canyon Ferry Dam began about 1.25 miles downstream from the original dam. The new dam was totally completed on June 23, 1954, but it began generating electricity earlier, on December 18, 1953. The old Canyon Ferry Dam and power plant were dismantled prior to the completion of the new, with some remnants being submerged under the rising Canyon Ferry Lake.

Unlike the first dam, the new one was not built with private funds, but with federal Bureau of Reclamation dollars. Construction was authorized by the Flood Control Act of December 22, 1944.


Recent Satellite View Overlaid with the 1898-1954 River Course
Showing the Location of the Original Dam, Bridge and Lake Sewell

Submerged under the new Canyon Ferry Lake were several prehistoric Indian camp sites, three Lewis and Clark camp sites, a stage road, several old mining towns, and dozens of picturesque ranches and log cabins dating from the post Civil war era.

 


Construction of Coffer Dam


COURTESY OF JASON FRANCIS

A November 1949 view of the Perry-Schroeder Mining Co. gold dredge, and the construction of a coffer dam across the Missouri River, upstream from the construction site. The dredge placed backfill against the dam.

A second coffer dam was built 1000' downstream. These dams allowed engineers to divert the river around the construction area through a gigantic flume, which emptied downstream from the second coffer dam. This exposed 1000' of dry riverbed for construction of the dam.



BEDROCK EXPOSED


COURTESY OF JASON FRANCIS

Missouri River channel bedrock, March 20 1950.




THE FLUME


COURTESY OF JASON FRANCIS

The flume was 63' wide, 1000' long, and varied in height from 23' at the intake to 18' at the discharge. The steel framework of the flume was covered with three layers: 4-inch-thick wooden planks, building paper, and shiplap. It could carry 23,000 cubic feet of water per second.

There were problems with the flume. On June 10, 1950, a section of the flume near the upstream coffer dam was undermined by high water, and the construction area was flooded (see clipping below).

On Sept. 11 1950, Canyon Constructors foreman Chandler Kimsey drowned when he was swept through the flume after falling out of a small boat.

In April of 1951, the outlet end of the flume needed extensive bracing with timbers and concrete because the rushing waters from the flume had washed away all of the earth fill from under the outlet end.

 


COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG

The head of the diversion flume, summer of 1950.





COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG

Pumping out the flooded construction area between the coffer dams after the flume break, summer 1950.





COURTESY OF JASON FRANCIS

The site of the flume failure, summer 1950.

 

 

THE OLD POWERHOUSE


COURTESY OF JASON FRANCIS • CLICK ON PHOTO FOR A DETAILED VIEW OF THE POWERHOUSE

The first Canyon Ferry Dam powerhouse, June 8 1948, passing 34,000 cubic feet per second

This photo, and others in this section, are courtesy of Jason Francis, whose great-grandfather worked at the old dam. Just a few years after this photo was taken, the powerhouse was stripped, and now lies submerged below Canyon Ferry Lake....




COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG

The last days of the old powerhouse.




COURTESY OF JASON FRANCIS

The old powerhouse, stripped down to the stonework.

 

 


COLLECTION OF BOB & SUSIE LINDEBERG

Canyon Ferry Lake rising


Yacht Basin, 1950s

 


Recent Photo of Canyon Ferry Dam

 


MINING SAPPHIRES ALONG EL DORADO BAR - 1972

Between Canyon Ferry Dam and Hauser Dam is El Dorado Bar, where sapphires have been mined since 1865. The video clip is taken from the 1973 Helena Chamber of Commerce promotional film, "Helena - City of Gold".


 


HAUSER DAM
THE FIRST HAUSER DAM BROKE IN 1908



The doomed Hauser Dam, built from 1905-07. Another project of Samuel T. Hauser and associates, this dam was funded primarily by the Amalgamated Copper Company (later the Anaconda Company), who needed vast amounts of cheap electricity to modernize their mines in Butte and Anaconda, which were then running on locally steam-generated electricity.

Despite the strong objections of his engineer, Martin Gerry, Hauser chose a design for a steel dam, which proved inadequate against the power of the Missouri. The dam failed on April 14, 1908 when currents undermined its foundation, which rested on water-impregnated gravel. The steel plates crumpled, and a 300' wide breach opened within minutes, sending a torrent of water downstream. It took the wall of water several hours to reach the town of Craig, which made notification and evacuation possible.

Twenty-two miles of Montana Central Railroad track between Wolf Creek and Cascade were wiped out. Bridge approaches and telegraph lines were also destroyed. Several buildings in Craig were washed off their foundations. Some livestock was lost. Great Falls received 7' floodwaters the next day, but fortunately no lives were lost in the dam break or the resulting flood.

Samuel Hauser, who was in New York City at the time of the disaster, was nearly ruined financially. Amalgamated withdrew their financial support for Hauser's Missouri River projects, and set about acquiring the Great Falls Winter Power and Townsite Company. By 1910 creditors took control of Hauser's Missouri River interests. In 1912, Butte Electric, which had been supplying steam-generated electricity to Amalgamated, merged with the Great Falls company to form the Montana Power Company, which still operates Hauser Dam.

 

Hauser Dam after the break, 1908.

 

 

A series of 1910 photos showing construction of the present Hauser Dam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hauser Dam Construction Vignettes, 1911


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD • CLICK ON IMAGE FOR A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

 

 

 

 

Hauser Dam today.

 


HOLTER DAM
STARTED 1909 - COMPLETED 1918
NAMED FOR EARLY MONTANA ENTREPRENEUR ANTON M. HOLTER



Located about 30 miles due north of Helena on the Missouri River, Holter Dam lies some 26 miles downstream from Hauser Dam, and 41 miles from Canyon Ferry Dam.

Samuel T. Hauser began construction of Holter Dam in 1909, concurrent with the rebuilding of his failed Hauser Dam. Design problems, construction delays and rising costs slowed the project. Hauser's Missouri River hydroelectric interests were bought in 1911 by the Butte Electric & Power Co., which in 1912 merged with the United Missouri River Power Company, the Billings and Eastern Montana Power Company, and the Madison River Power Company to form the Montana Power Company. Holter Dam began operating in 1918.

These wonderful 1916-1918 photos of the construction of Holter Dam are from Tim Rusek. Thanks Tim!




Workers building the coffer dam, one wheelbarrow full of rocks at a time, in 1916...




 

 



Holter Dam under construction, 1916.

 

 



Holter Dam under construction, 1916.


 

 



Workers in the Holter Dam scroll case, 1917. A scroll case is a tapered, curving tube which channels water from the penstock (the main pipe carrying water from the reservoir to the generating plant) into the turbine guide vanes at the optimal angle to maximize the turbine's efficiency.


 

 



Workers' housing, west of the dam, 1917...

 



 

The site of the workers' camp today, on Oxbow Ranch Rd...


 

 



Construction of the power house, March 1917.

 

 



Dam construction, looking west , 1917.

 




View of the nearly-completed dam, January 1918.

 

 

 

Holter Dam, March 1918



 

 

Holter Dam, about 1928


COURTESY OF TOM KILMER • CLICK ON IMAGE FOR A LARGE VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

 

 

Holter Dam generator floor, 1918 and 2006