Watsonville has celebrated 4th of July in many ways. However, imagine this: in May 1907 the Pajaronian urged Watsonville leaders to take advantage our natural resource: the Pajaro River. It was suggested to dam it up and make a lake for a 4th of July celebration and a summer resort. The idea must have been quickly approved. In June, Mr. J. E. Ostrander was hired to build the dam. The project was completed by the 4th of July. That would be unheard of today!
Lake Watsonville was formed by damming the Pajaro River at the end of Main Street. In less than a month, the river was scraped, the brush was cleared. The dam, a floating bandstand and also a grandstand were built. Walking paths and picnic areas were set up.
“The usually hot weather now prevailing has brought Lake Watsonville into immediate popularity as a bathing resort. Besides being used by numerous boys and youths it has already been patronized by well know people of both sexes. When the bathing house opens, the lake will be still more convenient for bathing and will doubtless attract a large assembly of swimmers. Several spring boards will be provided for those who desire to practice the high dive. The lake will extend about two miles up the river and will run from 3 to 6 feet in depth. Among the many suggestions made is that the old flour mill on lower Main Street should be turned into a temporary casino.” – The Pajaronian June 18, 1907. (The casino idea never came to fruition.)
Boats of all sizes were decorated in patriotic colors and brought to the lake to participate in the Water Carnival. It was held at night with the band playing, fireworks lighting the sky. Thousands of people attended this event.
Several boats participated in the Water Carnival. This included the “Roosevelt,” a trim dispatch boat. It “signaled the smoothing over of the last trace of ill-feeling between the North and South as represented by the two great political parties. The owners are J.S. Menasco, a modern Democrat and A. N. Judd, a Union Republican.”
The Queen’s barge, brought from Honolulu, made of teakwood, was 27 feet long, 10 feet wide and carried up to 40 passengers. It came to the lake by way of Moss Landing. On board during the Water Carnival was Mrs. Harry Peckham who was crowned Queen during the carnival which delighted the viewers. (Unfortunately, the next month the Queen’s barge hit a snag in the lake and sank.)
A converted submarine “Ben Junior” was entered by Ben Osborn. It was painted with red, white and blue stripes. Clever Ben plugged the holes to make it float.
The dam was taken down at the end of summer and rebuilt each year for 3 years. The following was from the local paper in 1909: “Every evening the river is alive with boats sliding up and down its smooth surface, and the two boathouses are doing a land-office business. The collection of private boats is being added to each day and the crowds that enjoy that great pastime of boating are nightly increasing in proportion. The present height of the dam and of the floodgates allow the back water to reach a point almost three miles up the river.” It was noted that 1909 had the biggest crowd in its history.
Lake Watsonville made its final return in 1914 but closed down when World War I started. The popular resort was never brought back.