The turbines in the powerhouse were protected from logs and other floating debris by a trash rack across the diversion canal.

The power of nature

When they turn off the juice and lock the doors, expect Mother Nature to soon come knocking.

Blackberries and bushes creep toward the cracking walls of the old powerhouse along the Rogue River in Gold Hill.

The canal that fed it for years by diverting the power of the Rogue through its turbines will soon go dry. The diversion dam is being removed to improve fish passage for salmon.

The powerhouse itself was turned off in 1968 and had only been in operation since 1944, not even a quarter century. It took longer than that to get authority to build it.

More than 30 years of tangled courtroom drama would pass before construction began, but even then, it wasn't Gold Hill's first power plant.

The story begins in the early 1890s when the Rogue River Flour Mill built a mill where the old powerhouse is today. The company placed a dam on the west side of the river and created the diversion canal as a millrace to push their rollers and grind their grain.

The mill also used hydropower and a small generator to generate electricity, but not to replace oil lamps and lanterns. The electricity was connected to a water pump used in the mill's 24-hour operations.

By 1907, the mill had been rebuilt a few hundred feet to the southwest and a 300-kilowatt generator was attached to a water wheel. The flour mill now ran on electric power and its generator was also pumping water from the diversion canal into Gold Hill's city reservoir.

The mill was eventually shut down, but the electric power plant was sold to Rogue River Electric Company, which quickly auctioned it off to the Marion Trust Company of Indiana.

In 1910, that company proposed a large dam and newer power plant with greater capacity at the old location. It was short-circuited by an injunction from Rogue River Electric, which by then was generating most of the electricity in the Rogue Valley.

The trust company found it impossible to work around the injunction and eventually sold out to the Beaver Portland Cement Company. Beaver continued to use water from the canal, but the 300-kw power plant was shut down, in favor of electricity from the former Rogue River Electric, now called the California Oregon Power Company (Copco).

Beaver wanted its own electric power and began blasting on the west bank of the Rogue. Plans called for a dam and large powerhouse, but Copco took Beaver to District Court.

After years of wrangling, the case finally reached the United States Supreme Court, which on April 29, 1935, ruled in favor of the Beaver Company. By then Beaver was tired of the ordeal and sold to the Ideal Concrete Company. Ideal began construction of the powerhouse just as World War II began.

With production failing, Ideal finally gave up in 1968, leaving the dam, the canal and the powerhouse to Gold Hill. The city tried to sell electricity, but couldn't find buyers.

So, off went the switch, snap went the locks, and Mother Nature began what Mother Nature does best.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove.

E-mail him at

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