US Army Corps of Engineers
Sacramento District Website

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

The project area for the Isabella Dam modernization is located on the former rangeland and home ranch of three generations of Isabella ranchers. Prior to construction, USACE archaeologists and historians examined the former ranch site in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act. Ranch buildings, farm equipment and oral histories from family descendants demonstrated the heritage of Isabella, best known as a ranching town from the late 1800s through the 1980s. 

The story of the Neill Silicz Mulkey family ranch began in the late 1880s when local business owners John and Annie Neill began to farm and raise cattle near Lake Isabella. Neill’s daughter, Dora, took the reins of the family ranch after her marriage to Alex Silicz in 1910.  Dora’s daughter Mernie, and her husband Burel Mulkey, operated the ranch from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Explore the history below.

Historic Photos

Aerial View: Family Ranch Headquarters

Select the numbers below to see pictures and to learn more about the ranch and the people who lived and worked there.

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Early construction on the dam (1949-1959).


Prior to his ranching career in Isabella, Burel Mulkey established himself as a rodeo champion on the national stage.


The first school was established in the Hot Springs Valley in 1876.


Family members and neighbors on horseback at a corral on the ranch.


Livestock at the home ranch c.1960.


Alex and Dora Silicz married in 1910 and managed the family business established by Dora’s father, John Neill.


John Neill was a successful business owner in Isabella. At the same time that John and his wife Annie established the ranch, the couple also managed the Hot Springs House, a local hotel, restaurant and mineral spa. 


Constructed sometime after 1910, Melvin's house was a residence for a variety of visitors and workers at the ranching operation.


Family ranch c. 1970 and 2016.


360 degree view near the farmhouse and Melvin's house on the ranch in Isabella Lake, California, Oct. 25, 2016.


360 degree view on the west side of the property at the ranch in Isabella Lake, California, Oct. 25, 2016. 


360 degree view near the pump house on the ranch in Isabella Lake, California, Oct. 25, 2016.


360 degree view near the farm equipment on the ranch in Isabella Lake, California, Oct. 25, 2016. 


Rusted equipment lies clustered in the fields on the ranch, a testament to the daily work of running the ranch. Artifacts include spring tooth harrows and disk plows, which would have been used to break up soil.


Built in 1949, the farmhouse is a one-story building with one bedroom, one bath, a small dining room, kitchen and living room.


The 25 to 30 foot windmill pumped groundwater for household and agricultural uses.


Outbuildings provided shelter for livestock and storage for tools needed to maintain ranch operations.


Outbuildings provided shelter for livestock and storage for tools needed to maintain ranch operations.


The wood building was used for storage of saddles and tack, and there are posts and hitches on the outside for tying horses. 


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. 


A section of concrete near the garage foundation showed the cattle brands of the Silicz family.


Three generations of ranchers and cowboys built and repaired sheds, fences, shelters and many other structures on the ranch. This wood foundation was found near the pump house and windmill.

 

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