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Depression-Era Photos Show the Human Side of the Shasta Dam Construction

In 1938, thousands of hardworking people arrived in rural Shasta County to build a dam and a dream. Shasta Dam brought much needed work during the Great Depression. It meant renewed pride for the builders and in the country…The construction of Shasta Dam provided work for 2,700 people, and drastically changed the economy of rural Shasta County.

The San Francsico Chronicle has been publishing fantastic pieces of journalism since 1865, and that includes their photography. In 1938, the Chronicle sent down photographer Ken McLaughlin to the area of Kennet, California (the town at the bottom of Shasta Lake) to shoot images of the people during the construction of Shasta Dam.




The results are some beautiful photos of what this area of Northern California looked like during the construction that changed the way California used water for the next 80 years. The construction gave work to an impoverished community during the Great Depression.

Take a walk through history with these SF Chronicle photos of Shasta Dam Construction.

Several businesses, such as these in June 1938, sprang up in anticipation of hundreds of workers making decent wages at the Shasta Dam.Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
The Silver Dollar and the Mint Pool Hall, shown on July 28, 1938, were some of the earliest buildings to spring up at one of the boomtowns near the construction site of the Shasta Dam. Photo: Associated Press 1938
Aerial view of Shasta Dam in July 1951 after construction was completed and the lake filled. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1951




A newsletter from June 1938 announces that construction of Shasta Dam has been approved.Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
The Nielsens, shown in July 1938, expect business to grow at their restaurant as construction of the Shasta Dam ramps up. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
Eric Nielsen and sister-in-law Mrs. Thor Nielsen operate a restaurant in July 1938 near the Mint Pool Hall. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938




Anticipation of an economic boom centered around the construction of the Shasta Dam brings land speculation to the area in June 1938.Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
A July 1, 1938, Chronicle front page article on boomtowns, the first in a five-part series, covers the growing population of poor showing up around the site of the proposed Shasta Dam. Photo: The Chronicle 1938
Anticipating work, Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Cox arrive with their children in June 1938.Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938




The July 1, 1938, Chronicle front page shows the growing population of poor arriving for work. Photo: The Chronicle 1938
Edward Price, shown in June 1938, arrives for work weeks before construction on the dam is to begin. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
A housing development named Santa Claus springs up in June 1938. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
Zola May Price and her children live a rustic existence in June 1938 while waiting for construction jobs to become available. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938




Mr. & Mrs. Nat M. Benham, shown in June 1938, look forward to steady employment at the construction site. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
A makeshift tent serves as home for the Edward Price family in June 1938. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
A makeshift tent serves as home for the Edward Price family in June 1938. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938




The Mint Pool Hall was short on business in June 1938 before work on the dam began, but the future looked bright. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
The Cox family boys in June 1938: Roy, 5, Eugene, 6, Donald 9, Richard, 10, Melvin 12, and Dale, 14. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
Nat M. Benham fixes a tire in June 1938 while waiting for real work to begin. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938




John Hagen struggles to get by on government assistance in June 1938 before jobs arrive. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
A July 5, 1938, Chronicle article on boomtowns and visions of prosperity around the site of the proposed Shasta Dam. Photo: The Chronicle 1938
For many people, a town pump at one of the boomtowns was their only source of water in June 1938. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
The Mint Pool Hall, shown in June 1938, was among the buildings springing up near the construction site of the proposed dam. Photo: Ken McLaughlin / The Chronicle 1938
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