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The Absolutely True Story About the First Electricity in Lake County

So here’s how this story goes. It’s February 2020, just before Covid settled in like an unwanted houseguest. I’m sitting at the table inside the Prather’s cabin on so-called Siegler Mountain. Everyone in the cabin calls it Prather Mountain because, as Danny says, “Siegler was hardly here at all. We’ve been here lots longer than him.” I’m well into my second drink of Crown Royal and 7-Up, listening to three of the Prather brothers tell me stories about the history of their family, Loch Lomond and Adams Springs Resort. Mike Prather sits in a reclining chair, leaning far back. Steve sits at the table, and Danny moves from chair to chair, hopping up to pull ice cubes from freezer trays and pop them into red solo cups before filling them with more whiskey and 7-Up.

Photo courtesy Douglas Prather

“So,” Steve Prather tells me as he’s drawing a map of the old Adam Springs Resort on a ripped-out piece of cardboard from the case of 7-Up. “Didja know that the resort had electricity before San Francisco?”

“Are you sure it was San Francisco?” Mike interjects. 

“I think it was Santa Rosa,” Danny adds.

“It was San Francisco.” 

“I’m not so sure about that,” Danny’s forehead wrinkles.

“Well, it was the first around here,” Steve continues. “D. L. Prather wanted the resort to be the best around, so he wrote to Thomas Edison asking how to generate electricity. And Thomas Edison wrote back!”

“I can’t find what happened to the letter,” Mike continues the story. “We’ve looked everywhere. But it’s true. Edison gave him a list of parts he would need, and he ordered them.”

Steve steps in: “Then he put the generator down in the creek and ran the lines up to the resort, and it had electricity.”

“When was this?” I asked.

“What was it?” Danny thinks out loud. “Late 1800s? Somewhere in there. You’ve been down to see the old Pelton wheel, haven’t you?”

“No, not yet.”

“You know the road that heads down the canyon? Well follow it past the old dump and Bugsville, and you’ll see it in the creek. It’s still there.”

“Seriously?”

“Oh yeah,” Steve adds, and he draws a small circle on the bottom of the map. “See, here’s the old resort,” he points with his pen, then draws a line from the resort to the circle. “Just follow the old road, and you’ll get there.”

Photo Courtesy Douglas Prather

Over two years later, my son, my dog and I decided to head down the steep slopes of the canyon to the creek, passing through the old resort dump, still filled with broken glass bottles from the late 1800s through the 1960s, beer cans with pull tabs and rusted iron bedsprings. 

Below that, the road became difficult, filled with huge blackberry patches, deadfall trees that spread their branches horizontally across every possible path, mudslides that took out large sections of the road, and poison oak. The going was slow, and the steep canyon walls and consistent brush eliminated walking along the hillside. 

About three-quarters of a mile downstream, we found the Pelton Wheel. It sat, rusted and half-disassembled, but still many of the main parts were there. Pelton Wheels work like a water wheel, but much more efficiently. It takes water from a stream and focuses it through pipes on a water wheel, which then turns and generates electricity. It’s a fascinating way to use small, fast moving streams into lights. 

And can you imagine that night, when D. L. Prather flipped the switch and the resort lit up? Adam Springs Resort is long gone, but that memory must have been filled with joy, excitement, and the hope of a new world. 

But that’s all gone now, and all that remains are the rusted pieces of the Pelton Wheel and a few old insulators left over from when the power lines ran back up the canyon to light up poker games, big band dances, and the spring house, where people could gather late into the night, sipping on the carbonated water bubbling from the ground. 

Lake County’s got some fascinating stories, and this is one. The Prathers were some of the more creative people in the county. D. L. may have been responsible for providing electricity, but his brother Wilbur not only created the first and only railroad in Lake County, but he also invented Campho-Phenique, but because he failed to patent it, never got the credit. 

And to settle the Prather brother’s debate, I did an absolutely minimal amount of research and discovered that San Francisco first got electricity in 1876, while Santa Rosa lit up, from what I can deduce, in 1888. W. R. Prather bought the resort in 1885, so there’s a chance that he got electricity in before 1888, but I couldn’t find an exact date of when that happened. 

The Pelton wheel is on private property, so don’t go trying to find it unless you have permission from the owner.

Jonah Wakefield

Jonah Wakefield is a writer for The Bloom.

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