From Rushes to Railroads: The Importance of Groveland, CA

Astride the twists and curves of Highway 120 in Tuolumne County sits the historical Gold Rush town of Groveland, California. Nestled just 25 miles west of Yosemite’s National Park’s westernmost entrance, tiny Groveland features a Main Street filled with places to eat, sleep, shop and drink—including Iron Door Saloon, the oldest continuously operating saloon in the state.  

A photo of the Groveland Roundhouse Crew.
A photo of the Groveland headquarters.
A machine shop in Groveland.

Despite a population of only 601 residents and a location nearly 150 miles from San Francisco, Groveland was—and is—a very important location to the SFPUC. The town served as the official headquarters of the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System for over ten years.

When construction for the dam began in 1914, Groveland—which had seen its population dwindle after the Gold Rush—suddenly found itself with an influx of San Francisco workers. Over the years, office and hospital buildings were constructed, along with homes for officials and their families. Even the headquarters of a full-scale railroad was established there to transport people and supplies to O’Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, bringing the first locomotives and cars that some of the Grovelanders had ever seen. Along with their work on the dam, the Hetch Hetchy builders also improved the locals’ water supply and even started a sewer system for the area.

Groveland, present day.

Today, the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System delivers drinking water to 2.7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area and generates clean power for the City’s municipal buildings, residents and businesses. Groveland is a critical component of this story.

Groveland now serves as an important basecamp for Yosemite National Park visitors and may even feature a few familiar faces—some descendants of the first Hetch Hetchy workers live there today.

A hospital in Groveland.
Workers at a machine shop in Groveland.