Hume Lake is an artificial lake in the Sequoia National Forest of Fresno County, California, adjacent to the unincorporated community of Hume. It is on Tenmile Creek, which flows into the Kings River. The surface elevation of the lake is 1,585 m (5,200 ft). It is accessible from California Route 180, via Forest Service road 30, and is about 50 mi (80 km) east of Fresno, not far from the west entrance to Kings Canyon National Park.
The 87 acre lake lies behind the world's first concrete reinforced multiple arch dam, designed by John S. Eastwood and constructed in 1908 by the Hume-Bennett Lumber Company. During lumber operations, the lake stored logs for an adjacent mill and supplied water for a flume used to transport the cut lumber to Sanger, California.
Since the cessation of logging in 1924, Hume Lake's identity has shifted from being an industrial implement to a recreational resource.
Hume Lake is found in the Kings River Watershed, a region of the Sierra Nevada Mountains replete with vast stands of timber. Hume Lake owes its existence to the loggers who sought to exploit the rich timber resources throughout the southern Sierras.
In 1878, Congress passed the Timber and Stone Act to encourage private ownership of timber land and facilitate logging. At this time in American history, resources such as timber were largely viewed as unlimited resources that could best be used for commercial gain and economic growth. Despite a growing human presence in other regions of California, the Sierra Nevada was still a relatively uncharted and virgin land up until the late 1860s due to its formidable and rugged terrain. The Timber and Stone Act facilitated commercial exploitation of these mountain areas, requiring a modest fee and filing in order to transfer complete and unrestrained ownership of federal land to any individual. Tracts were sold in 160-acre parcels to applicants, who at most times were illegally recruited and paid by corporate interests to file claims then transfer their ownership to lumber companies. As a result of this practice, large tracts of old growth forest passed from the federal government to lumber companies in relatively short order during the late 1800s.
Hiram Smith and Austin Moore formed the Kings River Lumber Company on April 24th, 1888, to take advantage of the commercial opportunities presented by the stands of timber in the Kings River Watershed. The Kings River Lumber Company acquired almost 30,000 acres in the area just north of Grant Grove, including stands of timber near the present location of Hume Lake. These 30,000 acres also contained the infamous Converse Basin, where Smith and Moore oversaw the feverish and almost complete destruction of arguably the largest giant sequoia grove, and its thousands of thousand-year-old giant sequoias. Despite the amount of pristine uncut old growth available when logging began, the Kings River Lumber Company was unable to ever recover much, if any, profit due to the cost of logging such large and isolated timber.
Out of this failure arose an opportunity for Thomas Hume and fellow timber entrepreneur Ira Bennett. These Michigan lumbermen sought to expand to the West Coast by purchasing Smith and Moore's 30,000 acre tract. In 1905, the Hume-Bennett Lumber Company purchased the tract and its milling facilities, but found little uncut lumber in the vicinity to justify the mill's location in Converse Basin.
Due to the exhausted forests surrounding the mill in Converse Basin, the Hume-Bennett Lumber Company sought a new location for its facilities closer to uncut stands of timber. This meant that the company would have to move deeper into the mountains. Tenmile Creek was the next tributary of the Kings River, four miles east of Converse Basin. The creek flowed through an area known as Long Meadow. This location was promising for the company because it could be converted into a reservoir that would serve two functions for the company. First, it would provide storage for logs cut from surrounding virgin groves. From this body of water, floating logs could be drawn into an adjacent mill to be cut. Second, the rough cut lumber could then be transported out of the mountains in a flume filled with water from the reservoir.
To create this reservoir, John S. Eastwood was hired in 1908 to construct a dam at Long Meadow. Eastwood proposed constructing the world's first reinforced concrete multiple arch dam. Although unprecedented, at a cost of approximately $46,000, the dam's design was a less expensive alternative to a conventional rock fill dam that would have cost about twice as much to construct. The dam was completed in only 114 days, by the end of 1909, along with a mill immediately adjacent to the dam. Logs were dumped into the reservoir by rail and floated to the dam where they were drawn up into the mill, cut and then dried in kilns next to the mill on the west bank of Tenmile Creek. From this location, lumber was floated to Sanger, California, in a flume filled with water from the reservoir. The flume was the longest ever created, eventually stretching 73 miles from Hume Lake to Sanger. Designed and built by James Carroll Goss, the flume was used by both the lumber company and tourists. Thrill seeking tourists would occasionally ride in the flume down from the Sierras in special boats designed with an open prow so that water would help keep the boats from flying off into the air. The flume was also reputedly utilized by the murderous bandits Chris Evans and the Sontag brothers, who hid along the flume to evade capture.
The dam and reservoir survive today little changed from their original appearance in 1908. The dam stands 61 feet in height and extends 667 feet in length, composed of twelve 50-foot-wide arches that rest on buttresses supported by granite bedrock. The height was set at 61 feet because of a tract of land not owned by Hume-Bennet along the reservoir's edge that would have been inundated by water if the dam had been built any higher. The water level was maintained at a level slightly lower than it typically is today, through the use of 5 x 8 foot spillway openings in the dam structure, which have since been filled.
Hume-Bennett thoroughly harvested the forests surrounding Hume Lake following completion of the dam, but paltry profits and a devastating fire in 1917 led to the end of logging operations. The fire completely destroyed the mill and surrounding facilities, with all logging ceasing by 1924. On April 8, 1935, the United States Forest Service purchased the entire operation and its holdings, including the dam and forest surrounding Hume Lake, incorporating it into the Sierra National Forest.
Since its purchase by the Forest Service, Hume Lake has become a popular destination, providing a variety of recreational opportunities: