Historic Photos of the Nation’s Tallest Dam

Take a look at these historic images that capture the construction of Oroville Dam, a keystone of California's water projects. The engineering feat included temporary tunnels and bridges, plus the relocation of one very important orange tree. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from towns below the lake on Feb. 12, 2017, after the reservoir swelled from recent rains and the emergency spillway flooded, threatening to send a 30-foot wall of water into nearby communities.

35 photos
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California Department of Water R
Construction continues on the Wellman train car dumper, positioned on the south side of the Feather River in Oroville, California. Once finished the device can unloaded two cars of rock and dirt without uncoupling. It's also projected to unload over 40-cars per hour with 10,000 tons of material for the Oroville Dam in Butte County. Photo taken August 30, 1963. Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
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Don Logan / California Department of Water Resources
This aerial photo shows the North Fork Bridge, a concrete railroad bridge under construction that crosses the North Fork of the Feather River in Butte County. The California State Water Project in the Oroville, California area forced the Western Pacific Railroad to be relocated in spots to make way for the dam and reservoir. The North Fork Feather River starts with streams tributary in the Sierra Nevada mountain range to Lake Almanor and continues downstream to Oroville. Photo taken on November 25, 1959.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
Thermal welding at the construction site for the North Fork Bridge, a concrete railroad bridge that crosses the North Fork Feather River in Butte County. Photo taken on March 19, 1959.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
The construction site for the North Fork Bridge, a concrete railroad bridge that crosses the North Fork Feather River in Butte County within Northern California. A temporary bridge was constructed to provide access for workers. Flood debris was found at the base of the wooden bridge. Photo taken on February 9, 1959.
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California Department of Water Resources
Hundreds attended the Oroville damsite groundbreaking ceremony, which included the first blast for the construction of the No. 1 diversion tunnel. California Governor Edmund G. Brown pushed the button on the detonator box to setoff the dynamite explosion. Photo taken October 12, 1961.
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Bob Dunn / California Department of Water Resources
The Bidwell Bar Bridge was the first steel suspension bridge of California that crossed the Middle Folk of the Feather River. It was manufactured by Starbucks Ironworks in Troy, N.Y. and shipped in 1853 from the East Coast passed Cape Horn, Chile the most southernmost tip of South America. It was completed at the Bidwell Bar, Calif. site in 1856 and closed to traffic in 1954. Then it was dismantled and relocated at the end of Bidwell Canyon Road in Butte County. Today the bridge is open to foot traffic. The orange tree in the foreground is considered the Mother Orange Tree of Northern California and was transplanted to the California State Parks Northern Buttes District Headquarters in Oroville, Calif. in 1964. Photo taken March, 1961.
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California Department of Water Resources
Left, California Governor Edmund G. Brown Sr., and William E. Warne, Director, California Department of Water Resources, with students from Las Plumas Elementary School in Oroville, Calif. during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Oroville damsite. Photo taken on October 12, 1961.
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Bill Dunn / California Department of Water Resources
Aerial photo of the Oroville damsite and the Hansell's Bridge that crosses the Feather River in Butte County within Northern California. Photo taken on February 27, 1963.
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Bob Dunn / California Department of Water Resources
This aerial view looks west toward the Oroville Dam construction site, and the concrete coreblock being formed on the banks of the Feather River in Butte County. The Oroville and Feather River project started in 1957, first relocating Highway 70 and the Western Pacific Railroad. The damsite construction began in 1961, with the embankment topped in 1967. Oroville Dam and Lake Oroville are located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range and key components to the California State Water Project. Photo taken June 25, 1963.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
Work continues on the right concrete gunite of the new river channel for the Feather River at the Oroville damsite in Butte County. The water will flow around the dam core block through the flume shown in the center of the picture. Photo taken August 30, 1963.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
Construction was in high gear during the summer of 1963. This view looks west toward the concrete coreblock being built in the distance, with a diversion wall on the right. Photo taken August 30, 1963.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
The construction phase of the Oroville Diversion Tunnel No. 1 at the Butte County damsite. Two 35-foot diameter tunnels were built to divert water from the Feather River during the dam construction and then plugged at the completion in 1967. Today, the two diversion tunnels are used to discharge water from the six-unit underground Edward Hyatt Powerplant located in rock in the left abutment near the axis of the dam. Photo taken August 30, 1963.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
Construction of a train loading station on the west side of the Feather River at the Oroville damsite. The facility was a key component for loading and transporting rock to the Oroville site in Butte County, California. Photo taken August 30, 1963.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
Construction of a train loading station on the west side of the Feather River at the Oroville damsite. Photo taken August 30, 1963.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
Western Pacific Engine No. 561 stops just past the crossing of the Feather River, during its return trip to the Oroville damsite borrow area where empty train cars are loaded with rock for the earth-filled Oroville Dam in Butte County, California. Photo taken August 30, 1963.
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California Department of Water R
Construction continues on the Wellman train car dumper, positioned on the south side of the Feather River in Oroville, California. The device unloaded two cars of rock and dirt without uncoupling. Photo taken August 30, 1963.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
Workers apply gunite on the west side of the core block at the Oroville damsite. Gunite is a mixture of cement, sand and water sprayed with a cement gun. Photo taken August 30, 1963.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
Contractors use a high pressure water hose to clean the core block area at the Oroville damsite, which was required before the 231,000 cubic yards of concrete could be poured to form the core block. Photo taken April 29, 1963.
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Bill Coop / California Department of Water Resources
The Mother Orange Tree of Northern California was transplanted from the Bidwell Bar, Calif. site along the Middle Folk of the Feather River in Butte County, Calif. and moved to the grounds of the California State Parks Northern Buttes District Headquarters in Oroville, Calif. The tree was moved to avoid the inundation of waters from the Oroville Reservoir. Photo taken August 4, 1964.
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California Department of Water Resources
This construction view of the earthfill damsite shows the back side with the lip. The embankment was topped nearly two years later in October 1967 and the spillway was finished in February 1968. Photo taken November 17, 1964.
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California Department of Water Resources
The Mother Orange Tree of Northern California was transplanted from the Bidwell Bar, Calif. site along the Middle Folk of the Feather River in Butte County, Calif. It was moved to avoid the inundation of waters from the Oroville Dam and Reservoir. Photo taken August 5, 1964.
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California Department of Water Resources
The Mother Orange Tree of Northern California was transplanted from the Bidwell Bar, Calif. site along the Middle Folk of the Feather River in Butte County, Calif. Photo taken August 5, 1964.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
The Wellman train car dumper on the south side of the Feather River, which can unload two cars filled with rock and dirt without uncoupling. Photo taken May 22, 1964.
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CA DWR
Workers at the Oroville Dam in 1967.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
California Gov. Ronald Reagan, First Lady Nancy Reagan, upper left, son, Ron Reagan Jr. and a friend, tour inside the structure of the Oroville Dam. The Reagan's visited the dam site for the dedication of the Oroville Dam and Lake Oroville located in Butte County and considered the centerpiece of the California State Water Project. More than 3,500 attended the dedication and later that day thousands witness the parade in downtown Oroville that commemorated the event. Photo taken May 4, 1968.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
Center, Chuck Von Berg, Tour Coordinator for the California Department of Water Resources - Oroville Field Division, gives Calif. Governor Ronald Reagan, First Lady Nancy Reagan and DWR Director William R. Gianelli, a tour of the new Oroville Dam on Dedication Day. Photo taken May 4, 1968.
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Gene Russell / California Department of Water Resources
California Gov. Ronald Reagan addresses an estimated crowd of 3,500 during the Oroville Dam dedication. Photo taken May 4, 1968.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
This aerial view looks south, over the estimated crowd of 3,500 who attended the Oroville Dam dedication. The event featured speeches from California Governor Ronald Reagan and Department of Water Resources Director William R. Gianelli. Photo taken May 4, 1968.
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California Department of Water R
California Governor Ronald Reagan addresses an estimated crowd of 3,500 during the Oroville Dam dedication. Oroville Dam and Lake Oroville is located one mile downstream from the junction of the Feather River's tributaries in Butte County. Construction was initiated in 1961 and the embankment was topped in 1967, making the earth-filled dam - the tallest in the U.S. - and the centerpiece of the California State Water Project. Photo taken May 4, 1968. Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources, FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
An estimated crowd of 3,500 attended the Oroville Dam dedication. Photo taken May 4, 1968.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
Left, California Governor Ronald Reagan and Resources Agency Secretary, Norman B. Livermore, Jr. examine a globe filled with dirt that former Gov. Goodwin Knight had scooped up during the Oroville Dam groundbreaking ceremony in 1957. The dirt had been preserved by Curt Melton of Pasadena, Calif. and given to Gov. Reagan during the Oroville Dam Dedication Parade. Photo taken May 4, 1968.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
Members of the Central Middle School Band from Oroville, California march north along Myers Street in downtown Oroville, during the Oroville Dam Dedication Parade. Photo taken May 4, 1968.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
Members of the Oroville Tigers High School Band march north along Myers Street in downtown Oroville, California during the Oroville Dam Dedication Parade. Photo taken May 4, 1968.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
An estimated crowd of 3,500 attended the Oroville Dam dedication. Photo taken May 4, 1968.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
California Gov. Ronald Reagan addresses an estimated crowd of 3,500 during the Oroville Dam dedication. Photo taken May 4, 1968.
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