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"The Geysers" - A Brief Historical Overview

(Excerpted, with permission, from A Geysers Album - Five Eras of Geothermal History
by Susan F. Hodgson)

"In the panorama of geothermal events at The Geysers, pieces from five historical eras overlap in a mosaic of time. The FIRST ERA of untouched wilderness ended abruptly when the SECOND ERA began about 13,000 years ago, as the Native American peoples in the region found The Geysers."

"In the SECOND ERA --the age of free human access -- and in the THIRD ERA, the age of organized tourism that began around 1848, users focused on geothermal surface features as sources for pleasure and cures."
1907postcard from The Geysers
(Postcard, postmarked from "The Geysers" May 1907, from collection of D. Beebee)

1848 - 1980 The first tourist lodgings are built at the foot of Geysers Canyon. Soon they are replaced by The Geysers Resort Hotel, a destination of choice for U.S. presidents and European royalty by the late 1860s. After good times and bad, the hotel is torn down in 1980.

"Although the second era may not be over - perhaps Native Americans still visit thermal features at The Geysers -- most tourism ended in 1980 when the remnants of The Geysers Resort were razed."

1920 John Grant acquires a lease on The Geysers Resort property, with the intention of using steam for electrical power generation to sell to the nearby towns of Healdsburg and Cloverdale. The first well, drilled in 1921 by John Grant, resulted in a blowout.

1922 The second well is drilled by Grant, (and is also named "Well #1"). Steam is found below 200 feet, and this well becomes the first successful geothermal well drilled for electrical power generation at The Geysers.

1923 Well #2 is drilled by John Grant. He and his family organize the Geysers Development Company, building a 35 kilowatt Power Plant between wells #1 and #2, generating the first geothermal electricity in the Americas. By 1929, the low price of oil effectively ends his project.

"The FOURTH ERA was an age of electrical development, as is the fifth. Both eras feature electrical power, generated from steam extracted from the field's vast underground reservoir. The fourth era began in 1921 and ended in the early 1930s, a time when Indian use and organised tourism were still underway. Its legacy -- perhaps besides inspiring the fifth era -- was electrical generation to light The Geysers Resort."

First power plant at the Geysers
Photo of the first power plant at The Geysers Geothermal Field. The electrical transmission line was attached to the pole in the front.
(Photo courtesy of the Geothermal Resources Council.)

1953 No more development occurs in The Geysers field until 1953 when B.C. McCabe, founder of Magma Power Company, acquires leases on over 3000 acres along Big Sulphur Creek across from The Geysers Resort.

1955  Magma Power drills the first "modern" well, "Magma #1", in Geyser Canyon.

First modern well at the Geysers "The FIFTH ERA began in 1955, the year the first modern steam well was drilled at The Geysers, and it continues today. Although electrical generation in the field declined and then leveled off from peak development and production in the 1980s, The Geysers still generates more electricity than any other geothermal field in the world".
Magma No.1 - the first "modern" well at The Geysers.
(Photo courtesy of the Geothermal Resources Council.)

1956  Thermal Power is formed by Dan McMillan, and a number of wells are drilled in the next 2 years, by Magma and Thermal, the deepest reaching 1,400 ft.

1958  PG&E signs a contract to purchase steam from the Magma-Thermal venture. This is the first modern commercial agreement for geothermal electrical power generation in the USA.

"What will the sixth era of geothermal history hold? What aspects from other eras will remain? The answer lies in the passage of time."


 The material for this earliest period of The Geysers' history was contributed by Susan Fox Hodgson, from her publication, "A Geysers Album, Five Eras of Geothermal History".  (Publication TR49)   published by the California Dept. of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources.

View the continuing story of the sixth era of Commercial Geothermal Development at The Geysers, from 1960 - 2009, by clicking on the following links.

The material for the next 50 years of Commercial Geothermal Development at The Geysers is based on a series of 5 banners designed by a group of dedicated members of the Geysers Geothermal Association. These banners were highlighted and displayed at the GRC Annual Meeting October 24, 2010, celebrating the past 50 years of Commercial Development at The Geysers!

Map of the Geysers Geothermal Field

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Geysers Geothermal Association Website (Updated April 20, 2011 )
All rights reserved. © 2011, Dorothy Beebee