89. Old Mission (or Padre) Dam:
California's First Aqueduct
California Road Trip #8
By Miguel Pérez
A few years after moving Mission San Diego de Alcalá to its present location to be closer to water, in 1774, its Spanish padres realized the water still wasn't close enough - not to maintain the crops and livestock of their growing mission.
And so, to make the water come to them, they decided to build a "Mission Dam" and a series of channels to divert the water from the San Diego River - for almost six miles!
Between 1813 and 1816, Indian laborers and Franciscan missionaries, with engineers trained in Mexico - using ropes, pulleys and hand labor - built a dam and flume system that was to become California's first aqueduct and irrigation system.
It was 250 feet long, eight to 10 feet wide and almost 12 feet high. "The reservoir created by the dam was three football fields long," according to a sign posted here. "A flume, lined with hand-made clay tiles, was build along the north side of the river to deliver water to the head of the Mission's crop fields (located where the Admiral Barker Golf Course is today) about three miles downstream from the dam. From the fields, a 2.5 mile clay-lined ditch carried water the remaining distance to the Mission, where it was then stored in a tank on site."
And after two centuries, the dam is still there. Now it is goes by two names, either "Old Mission Dam" or "Padre Dam," and it is considered a State and National Historic Landmark.
Now the dam has one large opening, where the water pours through - gently - but the condition of most of the 200-year-old rock wall is remarkable.
"The aqueduct system continued until 1831, when constant flooding caused the dam and flume to fall into disrepair," according to a plaque at the dam. "They were not repaired due to secularization of the missions."
That was between 1834 and 1836, when the Mexican government confiscated the mission properties, exiled the Franciscan missionaries. That was when the land that was supposed to be returned to the Indians was broken up and mostly sold or given away to private citizens.
The dam is now part of Mission Trails Regional Park, which is mostly beautiful wilderness where runners go for uphill training and history buffs pause to take pictures.
Obviously, it was a necessary stop for The Great Hispanic America History Tour. But where do we go next? Don't you think we need a beach break? Stay tuned!