5 cool features at historic ranch near Isabella Dam project

Published Nov. 22, 2016
by John Prettyman

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Modernizing the nation’s infrastructure doesn’t mean forgetting the past, and such is the case with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers latest mega-project to modernize Isabella Lake Dam in Kern County. 

Corps archaeologists recently examined several cultural resources on a historic property during a survey of land south of the auxiliary dam construction area. The historic property is a ranch complex with some features dating back to the late 1800’s, providing remnants of early settlers in California’s southern central valley.

The historic ranch complex with the Isabella auxiliary dam in the background. More photos & video  

Explore five features of this historic ranch:



1. Melvin’s House
Most likely constructed shortly after 1910 from wood sourced from the nearby sawmill, Melvin’s house was a residence for a variety of visitors and workers at the Ranch Complex. The building has always been known as Melvin’s House, named after Melvin Marshall who lived there during a period of time in the mid-twentieth century. Melvin was related to James Marshall, who discovered gold at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, starting the Gold Rush. 

2. Saddle House & Farm Equipment
The wood building was used for storage of saddles and tack, and there are posts and hitches on the outside for tying horses. Old rusted farm equipment lies clustered in the fields nearby, representing different types of farming or ranching activities that took place. Artifacts include spring tooth harrows and disk plows, which would have been used to break up soil. Each of these implements would have been pulled behind either horses, oxen, or a tractor. 

3. Blacksmith Shop
Before the wood roof collapsed and weather and age took its toll, the blacksmith shop was used to repair various pieces of farm equipment, tools and metal items used around the ranch. An intact wood work bench is still visible inside the building and various rusted metal connectors and chains hang from the walls. 

4. Pump House
The pump house on the western end of the property was originally associated with the oldest farmhouses and used to have a 25 to 30 foot windmill nearby that would pump groundwater for household and agricultural uses. Former resident, Ms. Myrna Sweeney, stated that the pump house once had a flat roof with a water tank perched on top of it which served as her swimming pool when she was growing up. There are a total of 5 pump house locations on the property.

5. Farmhouse
Built in 1949, the farmhouse is a one-story building with one bedroom, one bath, a small dining room, kitchen and living room. The shelving in the living room includes a drop-down desk engraved with the registered cattle brands for the children of Dora and Alex Silicz. Dora and her husband reportedly took over operation of the family farm after their marriage in 1910. 


Identifying and preserving cultural resources has been a shared responsibility of all federal agencies since the National Historic Preservation Act became law in October 1966.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is constructing the Isabella Lake Dam Safety Modification Project to address seismic, overtopping and seepage issues at the dam that threaten the dams ability to provide flood risk management, irrigation and recreational benefits to the public. Construction on the main and auxiliary dams is scheduled to begin in 2017.