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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Collection Number
  • Processing History
  • Biographical Note
  • Collection Scope and Contents
  • Collection Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: John S. Eastwood papers
    Date (inclusive): 1884-1979
    Date (bulk): 1903-1924
    Collection Number: WRCA 036
    Creator: Eastwood, John S.
    Extent: 5.42 linear feet (13 boxes)
    Repository: Rivera Library. Special Collections Department.
    Riverside, CA 92517-5900
    Abstract: The collection consists of correspondence, reports, designs, specifications, and photographs, relating to dams, dam sites, and hydroelectric power plants in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, British Columbia, and Mexico.
    Languages: The collection is in English.


    The collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the University of California, Riverside Libraries, Special Collections & University Archives. Distribution or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. To the extent other restrictions apply, permission for distribution or reproduction from the applicable rights holder is also required. Responsibility for obtaining permissions, and for any use rests exclusively with the user.

    Preferred Citation

    [identification of item], [date if possible]. John S. Eastwood papers (WRCA 036). Water Resources Collections and Archives. Special Collections & University Archives, University of California, Riverside.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of the California Water and Telephone Company, 1961

    Collection Number

    Collection number updated January 2019. Legacy collection number was EASTWOOD. This change was part of a project in 2018/2019 to update the collection numbers for collections in the Water Resources Collections and Archives.

    Processing History

    Processed by Water Resources Collections and Archives staff, 1999.

    Biographical Note

    John Samuel Eastwood was born on a farm near Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1857. Family tradition holds that his grandfather, Arent van Oosterhout, served as a Royal Dutch Engineer in the 18th century with responsibility for dike construction in low-lying regions of Holland. Although proud of his family heritage -- and the engineering activities of his grandfather -- John nonetheless "Americanized" his name from Oosterhout in 1878 in anticipation of entering the commercial and professional world.
    In the late 1870's Eastwood matriculated to the University of Minnesota to study engineering; in 1880 he migrated west to start his career helping to build the Northern Pacific railroad. After working in the Pacific Northwest for three years, he headed south to Fresno to seek his fortune as an engineer/surveyor. Aside from short business trips, he spent the remainder of his life in California and became fervently committed to promoting regional economic growth and development. Soon after his arrival in the San Joaquin Valley in late 1883 (and about the same time he married Ella Tabor after they met at a Baptist church group), Eastwood began advocating Fresno's formal incorporation as a city in order to improve municipal services and enhance the community's image. In the fall of 1885, voters approved the incorporation initiative; in recognition of his support for the measure, Eastwood was appointed Fresno's first city engineer and secretary of the city's health board. However, he served as a city official for only a year and -- in place of government work -- soon focussed his professional energies on endeavors supported by private enterprise.
    Eastwood's most noteworthy early work was usually associated with either irrigation development or the surveying of flumes and roads for logging interests in the Sierra Nevada. During this time he came to appreciate the significance of water control in the arid West as it related to economic growth. Starting in the early 1890s he drew from his knowledge of the San Joaquin River watershed and, in developing a major water power system, gained prominence as a pioneer in the world of hydroelectric power technology. As chief engineer for the Fresno-based San Joaquin Electric Company (SJEC), in 1895-1896 he built a hydroelectric power system that, at the time operations began in April 1896, incorporated the longest commercial power transmission line in the world. It also operated under the highest head (1,410 feet) and the highest voltage (11,000 volts) of any plant then in operation. Because the undercapitalized SJEC initially could not afford to build a large dam for storing spring flood waters, Eastwood's system depended upon the unregulated flow of the San Joaquin River's North Fork to power its turbines.
    Had the SJEC's first few years of operation comprised a period of normal rainfall it is unlikely that the absence of a dam would have constituted a critical problem (by 1898 Eastwood was already planning to add a large reservoir to the system). But a serious drought hit central California in the late 1890s, drying up the North Fork and forcing the SJEC into bankruptcy in 1899 before it could finance construction of a storage dam. Denied participation in the eventual economic success of the SJEC system (subsequent investors renamed the enterprise the San Joaquin Light & Power Corporation and it eventually merged into the Pacific Gas and Electric Company in 1931), Eastwood experienced first-hand the economic importance of water storage in the arid West. It also fostered within him a strong desire to find ways of reducing dam construction costs and helped spurred his development of the reinforced concrete multiple arch dam.
    After the financial failure of the SJEC, Eastwood remained involved in the development of large-scale hydroelectric power plants in the Sierra Nevada. During the first decade of the 20th century he worked for Henry Huntington's Pacific Light & Power Corporation in planning what has come to be popularly known as the Big Creek system. As part of this huge project (that encompassed the entire watershed of the upper San Joaquin River), he conceived plans for a multiple arch dam design that would impound a key reservoir associated with the system (now known as Huntington Lake). The intent of these plans was to devise a type of dam that would be less expensive than conventional massive gravity dams (whether made of earth, rockfill, or masonry) yet equally strong. In 1906 Eastwood first developed multiple arch designs that required remarkably small quantities of concrete to build. Because of the limited amount of material needed for construction, these designs also promised significant cost savings.
    Financial uncertainties caused by the Panic of 1907 and corporate machinations of the Pacific Light and Power Corporation kept Eastwood from building any multiple arch dams at Big Creek. However, in 1908 he demonstrated the practicality of his new idea by building a 64-foot high dam for the Hume-Bennett Logging Company in the Sierra Nevadas about 50 miles east of Fresno. Completed in 1909, the Hume Lake Dam comprised the world's first reinforced concrete multiple arch dam. Bought by the U.S. Forest Service in 1935, this structure remains in service impounding a popular lake now used solely for recreation.
    In 1910, Eastwood began work on the 92-foot high Big Bear Valley Dam in southern California to be used by irrigation farmers to increase crop production in the Redlands/San Bernardino region. After completing the Big Bear Valley Dam in 1911, he immediately began working on a major project for the Great Western Power Company (GWPC) in northern California. By this time he realized that he would not be called upon to supervise construction of Henry Huntington's Big Creek system. So, leaving Fresno and moving to Oakland, he commenced work as a specialist devoted to the design and construction of multiple arch dams for clients throughout California and the West as a whole.
    As part of its Feather River hydroelectric power system, the Great Western Power Company planned a large storage dam at Big Meadows. Originally, the company intended to erect a concrete gravity dam at this important reservoir site, or at least this had been the hope of the firm's engineering consultant John R. Freeman. Freeman, a prominent hydraulic engineer based in New England who had helped Boston, New York City and Los Angeles plan their municipal water supply systems, had also served as president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and vice president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. In 1909, H. H. Sinclair was appointed the GWPC's vice president in charge of California operations; soon he and Freeman clashed over engineering plans for the Feather River system with Sinclair eventually gaining the support of GWPC president Edwin Hawley in supervising construction of Big Meadows Dam. Sinclair had known Eastwood since the 1890s when both were active in the Pacific Coast Electrical Transmission Association; he quickly arranged for Eastwood to take charge of designing and building Big Meadows Dam. Despite foundation problems (largely resulting from a site change prompted by concern over the ownership of the original proposed dam site) Eastwood proceeded at a rapid pace to build his multiple arch dam during the summer and fall of 1912. But following the death of Edwin Hawley as company president and a subsequent loss of power by Sinclair, Freeman found means for influencing board members of the GWPC. At Freeman's insistence, the suitability of Eastwood's design was soon brought into question by the GWPC leadership.
    Without recounting in detail the struggle between Eastwood and Freeman over Big Meadows Dam, what is important is that by the spring of 1913 Freeman was able to convince the GWPC's corporate leaders to abandon Eastwood multiple arch design in favor of a massive earthfill design. Significantly, the heart of Freeman's objection to Eastwood's design did not rest on technical arguments but derived from non-technical concerns about the appearance of the multiple arch design and the "psychological" disquiet (a term specifically used by Freeman) that the design would supposedly engender among the general public.
    In the wake of the Big Meadows controversy -- and the associated dispute with Freeman -- Eastwood found himself a professional outsider within the world of engineering and high-level finance. Rather than abandon interest in multiple arch technology, he instead concentrated his professional energies on the goal of developing inexpensive -- yet structurally sound -- dam designs to further economic development in the West. Driven by a desire to further western economic development through the construction of inexpensive dams, he even went so far as to rhapsodize in a 1914 speech that: "The California Slogan e'er should be, that t'is a crime to let our rivers reach the sea."
    Between 1913 and 1915 he struggled to find commissions, building a small irrigation dam in Yuba County (Los Verjels Dam) and a mining debris dam in Jackson, California (Kennedy Dam) for a comparable amount. In 1915, Sylvester Q. Cannon, city engineer for Salt Lake City, engaged him to develop a design for the newly-planned municipal water supply reservoir at Mountain Dell; when Eastwood's proposal came in at a dramatically less expensive price than competing designs he received the commission for this 150-foot-high design. In concert with the Mountain Dell commission, Eastwood's other big opportunity came when San Diego County businessman Ed Fletcher embraced the economic advantages offered by Eastwood's designs. With Fletcher, Eastwood found a patron who could begin to counteract the opposition promulgated by Freeman and who could help disseminate his ideas within the Western business community.
    Under Fletcher's patronage, Eastwood designed four dams that were built in San Diego County during 1917-18. These included the Lake Hodges and San Dieguito dams built for the San Dieguito Mutual Water Company (with most financing provided by the Santa Fe Railway Company), the Murray Dam for the Cuyamaca Water Company (largely financed by Fletcher's partner James Murray), and the Eagles Nest Dam in the midst of Ed Fletcher's family retreat in near Warners Spring. Although no other Eastwood dams were ever built in San Diego County, during the early 1920s Fletcher worked with him on a variety of projects in the San Diego River watershed that were ultimately squelched because of state supreme court rulings over water rights issues. Fletcher also proved instrumental in promoting Eastwood's skills to city authorities in Phoenix, Arizona; as a result Eastwood designed the Cave Creek Dam, which provided flood control for the city from the time of its completion in 1923 until being replaced by larger dam in the early 1980s.
    Other Eastwood commissions completed in the early 1920s include: the Fish Creek Dam built for Mormon irrigation interests near Carey, Idaho; the Littlerock Dam built for the Littlerock and Palmdale Irrigation Districts in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles; the Anyox Dam built for the Granby Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company in northern British Columbia (for many years this 156-foot-high structure stood as the tallest dam in Canada); and the Webber Creek Dam built for the Eldorado Water Company near Placerville east of Sacramento.
    During the latter part of his career as a dam design specialist he continued to innovate in structural form. In particular, he sought new ways to minimize the amount of concrete necessary for his designs and thus reduce their construction costs. As part of this effort he developed "curved-face" multiple arch designs (used at Cave Creek and Anyox) and "triple-arch" designs (used at Webber Creek) that represent some of the most remarkable examples of reinforced concrete design ever developed in the United States. It is as a "structural artist" working to implement innovative and efficient water storage designs that Eastwood is perhaps best remembered as we approach the 100th anniversary of his first multiple arch dam at Hume Lake. After coming into professional conflict with John R. Freeman over control of the Big Meadows Dam commission, Eastwood was never able to fully overcome the non-technical, so-called "psychological" arguments that Freeman used to cast aspersions on the distinctive visual character of the multiple arch dam. But Eastwood's determination to pursue his work in the face of such opposition nonetheless stands as striking testimony to the power of his engineering vision.
    Eastwood remained deeply involved in the business of dam design until the end of his life. At the time of his death he was actively engaged in projects throughout California and extending as far east as New Mexico and as far south as Sinaloa, Mexico. While working on dam designs for Ed Fletcher in the late summer of 1924, Eastwood spent time at a small ranch along the Kings River he had purchased in the 1890s. On August 10, 1924 he suffered a heart attack while swimming and drowned at the age of 67 years. The ranch is now covered by water of the lake of Pine Flat Dam. He was survived by his wife Ella (who passed away in 1931) and by his niece Marguerite Eastwood Welch.
    Biography written by Donald C. Jackson, Professor of History, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, author of Building the Ultimate Dam: John S. Eastwood & the Control of Water in the West (University Press of Kansas, 1995), a comprehensive discussion of Eastwood's life and work.

    Collection Scope and Contents

    The collection consists of correspondence, reports, designs, specifications, and photographs, relating to dams, dam sites, and hydroelectric power plants in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, British Columbia, and Mexico.

    Collection Arrangement

    The collection is arranged topically.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Great Western Power Company
    San Dieguito Mutual Water Company
    San Joaquin Electric Company
    San Joaquin Light and Power Corporation
    Arch dams -- California -- Design and construction
    Arch dams -- West (U.S.) -- Design and construction
    Hydroelectric power plants -- California
    Irrigation water -- California
    San Diego River (Calif.)
    San Joaquin River (Calif.)
    Water-supply -- California -- Fresno
    Water-supply -- California -- San Diego

    Genres and Forms of Materials