Enloe Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant, Oroville Washington

Date added: February 24, 2022 Categories:

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The earliest known power production on the Similkameen River was within the Similkameen Valley proper. An elderly German settler named Kruger placed a small waterwheel on a shaft and lowered it into the Similkameen River. The exact location of the waterwheel and powerhouse have been lost to time. This first powerhouse with its small generator furnished electricity for the mining town of Golden six miles to the south.

J.M. Hagerty organized the Similkameen Power Company in 1902. Hagerty was a man of many talents and was heavily involved in mining in the Loomis and Nighthawk territory of Okanogan County. It was Hagerty's other talents that he may be best remembered, for he was not so much a mining man as he was a promoter. Hagerty was very successful at attracting capital to Okanogan properties. In 1913 (eight years after his death) a local newspaper portrayed Hagerty as an untiring hustler, genial, optimistic, a good mixer, and clever at presenting the bright side of a proposition (Oroville Weekly Gazette 31st January 1913). In 1903, Hagerty secured the water and land rights on the Similkameen River approximately 3.5 miles above Oroville at Similkameen Falls. The next three years he spent developing the site. Hagerty built a wooden crib dam above the Similkameen Falls to divert water to the powerhouse below the falls. All the equipment was hauled from Republic to Oroville by wagon train at great expense. The wooden dam and powerhouse were finally completed in 1906 about a year after his death. The enterprise was carried on by the executors of his estate: LeRoy L. Works, of Oroville; Monroe Harman, of Nighthawk; and S.P. Ecki, of Mansfield, Ohio.

Charles Mitchell and his son, Charles Jr., operated the plant without assistance until ca. 1918 when Mace Reed, Jr., a local high school student, was hired. Reed, who worked at the Hagerty powerplant at the time of the building the Enloe Dam, describes the old powerplant as a building of "wood construction" with "rooms for us to sleep in upstairs." Reed explained that "the main part … was the generating room with the excitor and big generator and big belt and wheel underneath. Well, quite an experience for somebody who'd never been around a powerhouse at the time. Of course, there was nothing particularly tough about taking care of it, either".

The plant supplied power and light to the towns of Oroville and Nighthawk. It also supplied electricity to a 100-horsepower pump for the local irrigation project. The dam had contracts with the Owasco and Ivanhoe mines, where electric power was to be used in driving a 4,000-foot tunnel at the latter operation. The Ruby and Caaba mine was also supplied with power, as was the Wannacut Lake mining camp of Golden. Evidence of the transmission line to the mining camp can still be found.

J.L. Harper and his associates, of Republic, leased the power plant in June of 1910. Operating under the name of North Washington Power Company, the consortium signed a ten-year lease obligating the Company to put a power line to Republic from Oroville to service the Republic mines and mills. Construction of the line from Oroville to Republic was to have begun in September of 1910. In October of the same year J.E. McFarland, superintendent of The North Washington Power Company, had plans to add 950 horsepower to the Hagerty powerhouse (Oroville Weekly Gazette 2nd September 1910).

It appears that the North Washington Power Company failed to accomplish either of its envisioned plans. In 1913 executors of the Hagerty estate moved to cancel the lease for failure to build the power line to Republic. The executors at the time of the cancellation also decided to sell the property (Oroville Weekly Gazette 14 March 1913). The local press called the dam and site the most "meritorious property" and "the most valuable" property in the county because of its potential power production. From the time of its construction in 1906 to 1913, $125,000 had been invested in the dam and powerhouse, which generated 450 horsepower (Oroville Weekly Gazette 14th March 1913).

In 1913, the Great Northern Railroad announced its plans to build a branch line to Oroville and possibly beyond. The railroad had stopped construction at Pateros on the Columbia River in 1910. News of the railroad's coming to Oroville created a great amount of excitement: land prices increased and irrigation expanded. The potential benefits that the railway could bring were thought to be innumerable (Oroville Weekly Gazette 23rd May 1913).

It appeared, with the railroad's advance into Oroville, that the selling of the power site could be easily achieved. That was not to be the case, however. By 23 May 1913, no bids had been received for the dam. The executors of the Hagerty estate found it hard to believe that a power site with its potential did not receive many bids. The reason for the lack of bids may have been the condition of the Hagerty wooden crib dam and powerhouse. The powerhouse appeared to be in fair condition, but the crib dam was in such disrepair that nothing short of building a new dam could increase power production.

Interest in the power potential of the Similkameen Falls site appeared to be growing when, in 1915, the Okanogan Water Company, a subsidiary of the Washington Water Power Company of Spokane, contested the water rights of the Similkameen Power Company. The West Okanogan Valley Irrigation District opposed the claims of both power companies, seeking the opportunity to develop power in connection with its irrigation system (Oroville Weekly Gazette 29 October 1915). Bo Sweeney, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior, awarded the title of rightful claimant to the water power in the Similkameen River to the Similkameen Power Company.

Enloe Era

Eugene Enloe incorporated the Okanogan Valley Power Company (OVP) under the laws of the State of Washington on 10 June 1913. In 1913 and 1914, the OVP acquired a power plant on the Methow River managed by Nixon-Kimmel Company of Spokane, and the property of Paul McHugh at Okanogan. The acquisition of these two properties gave the OVP all the developed hydroelectric power generating sites in the Okanogan Valley but one. The exception was Similkameen Falls, with the greatest potential for power generation. When the OVP secured the hydroelectric rights to the Similkameen River in 1916, it gave Enloe complete control of that area of Okanogan County.

On 1 June 1916, the Okanogan Valley Power Company bought the complete holdings of the Similkameen Power Company. This included the 80 x 40 foot frame powerhouse and all the machinery related to the Hagerty plant, and the power lines and substations that serviced the mines. The most important factor in Eugene Enloe's mind was "all water rights or rights for the use of waters" on the Similkameen River.

On reporting the sale of the Similkameen Power Company to Okanogan Valley Power Company, the Oroville Weekly Gazette noted that the new owners were planning to spend approximately $100,000 on enhancing power production by building a concrete dam). Construction of Enloe Dam began in 1919 and was nearing completion in the spring of 1920. Although significant in a local context, the dam could not compare with other hydroelectric plants in the state in so far as the amount of horsepower generated or the cost of construction and installation were concerned. The Okanogan Independent describes the local engineering feat at the dam: "It involved engineering features comparable in their magnitude and the ingenuity required in their solution to any that have been met with in similar undertakings in the country.

The design plans and survey were drawn and conducted by C.F. Uhden, an engineer of impeccable credentials. Before the contract with OVP, Uhden had written a well-received article in the Journal of Electricity (Sept. 1914) on Washington Water Power Company's hydroelectric generation and distribution system. The article, of a very technical nature, showed signs of a very capable man. Uhden completed the design plans for Enloe Dam in 1916, while the survey of the site was not completed until July of 1919, however.

Serving as construction engineer was the very able D.J. Broderick, who started work on the dam in October of 1919. Despite supply and manpower problems, Broderick kept a tight construction schedule. The problem of keeping 35 to 40 good men in a rural area proved difficult, particularly on a structure 54 feet tall and over 200 feet long. Construction of the arch-gravity dam appears to have been completed in the summer of 1920.

Eugene Enloe's daughter-in-law, Helen Enloe, was a young woman at the time and enjoyed visiting the dam during construction. Ms. Enloe described the area as deep in a treeless, "edge-of-the-moon" canyon above Oroville. Gene Bowman, grandson of Eugene Enloe who worked at the dam one summer, remembers the perils of the road to and from Oroville to the dam: "It is quite a drop down the canyon so to make a safe trip we had to use the reverse pedals [on automobiles] … " The railroad made the building of the dam a reality, for without it the transportation costs would have been prohibitive.

Construction of the powerhouse proved to be an equally difficult feat of engineering. The red brick and concrete plant is of considerable dimension, measuring 83 feet long and 43 feet wide. Situated approximately 800 feet downstream from the dam, the powerhouse is nestled in a man- made hollow in a sheer rock cliff on the west side of the Similkameen gorge. Mace Reed worked at both the Hagerty and Enloe powerhouses as a young man. After completion of the new powerhouse, Reed helped move everything to the new Enloe powerhouse. He recalled: " … the new powerhouse was all built [of] concrete … it was a modern building at the time … there was quite a porch … [and] the maintenance was very, nothing to it.

Eugene Enloe spent $150,000 of his own money on the new dam; a total of $350,000 was invested in the Similkameen River project. The dam generated 2,000 horsepower upon completion of the first unit, with space for an additional unit of 3,000 planned. In July of 1922 Enloe Dam drew the attention of large power companies. Washington Water Power (WWP) had already extended a power line into Grant County early in 1922. That year WWP approached Eugene Enloe expressing interest in acquiring the facility. On Jan. 1, 1923, Enloe sold the property to Washington Water Power. WWP then installed (1923) a second penstock from the dam and a 3,500 horsepower unit in the powerhouse. The Company also constructed cottages (since removed) near the east abutment of the dam to house operators of the facility.

WWP continued to operate Enloe Dam and Powerhouse until 1942, when Public Utility District No. 1 of Okanogan County acquired the property. The PUD ceased operation of the power generators on 29 July 1958 when the Bonneville Power Administration's high-voltage transmission line brought abundant power to the Okanogan Valley. Operation of Enloe Dam then became unprofitable, and the facilities were abandoned. One of the penstocks, which had largely collapsed, was sold for salvage. Vandalism of the powerhouse led to installation of a locked gate across the abandoned railroad grade, and to removal of the footbridge across the river, thus isolating the building. Vandalism appears to have continued at the site, however.