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FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Millerton Lake has a presence in both Fresno County and Madera County, just north of the town of Friant. But those new to the area may not know that underneath the waters of Millerton Lake was the original town of Millerton.

According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Millerton Lake was created following the construction of the Friant Dam. But to create the lake, the town underneath had to be flooded.

Millerton Elementary in 1925 (image source Fresno County, image provided by State of California)
The elementary school in Millerton

State-provided documents show that the town of Millerton was originally founded in 1852, then known as Rootville. The California gold rush brought miners into the area and the town continued to do well until the railroad reached what is now Fresno.

Other state-provided documents detail what led to the residents to leave the town of Millerton. A flood on Christmas Eve 1867 struck the town when landslides that had previously blocked the flow of water upriver broke away – sending a cascade of water down into the town. The strong flowing water is said to have destroyed everything in its path.

Fortunately, no lives were lost in the incident. Records show that the people of Millerton had been warned ahead of time about the impending danger and had taken some of their belongings to higher ground. The value of the mine that started the town was not worth as much anymore – leaving little money to rebuild the town following the water damage.

An election in 1874 established that the county offices should be moved – and then the population also voted to move everything from Millerton to Fresno station. The town’s courthouse was moved as well and eventually rebuilt in its current location in 1966.

Work on what we now know as Friant Dam began in the late 1930s, and by the mid-1940s Millerton Lake had inundated the town below. In 1957, Millerton Lake State Recreation Area was established as a part of the State Park system.

Millerton isn’t the only California town whose remnants are sitting at the bottom of a lake. Under Lexington Reservoir in the Bay Area, there used to be two towns called Lexington and Alma, writes SFGate.

Several Gold Rush towns were also flooded by the creation of Folsom Lake near Sacramento. One of them became exposed last year when drought caused water levels to drop particularly low.