In 1887 Spring Valley Water Works (SVWW) acquired land in San Mateo County for the purpose of impounding Corte Madera Creek. The land included the town of Searsville. SVWW began work on Searsville Dam in 1888. It was built using the same technique of stacking interlocking concrete blocks that William Bourn had used in building the Crystal Springs Dam. Searsville Dam, completed in October 1891, created a lake of some 300 acres.
Previously held as a portion of the Rancho Cañada de Raymundo Mexican-era land grant, Searsville had been established as a robust town during the redwood logging boom. It was named for John Howell Sears who moved to the site in 1854, with a contract to provide postal services.
With a hundred or more people in the community, Searsville became a bustling town with hotels, a blacksmith shop, a post office, a school, saloons, dwellings and a store called the Searsville Exchange. Eventually, when the sawmills ran out of timber, the town slowed down.
Searsville disappeared altogether by 1892 when, after Spring Valley Water Works completed the Searsville Dam, the result was a nearly mile-long body of water. Most of the buildings had been taken apart and moved to Redwood City before the flooding.
After the dam was built, it turned out it was undrinkable. When water first flowed to Stanford for irrigation, it turned out to be yellow, muddy and smelly. So it could not be used by Spring Valley Water Works to supply San Francisco with drinking water.
In 1919 Stanford took over the lake and dam from the Spring Valley Water Company and raised the dam 3-1/2 feet. Starting in 1922 the lake was used as a local swimming hole. And local myth arose about an abandoned village hidden beneath the lake. Recreational use of the lake continued into the mid-1970s.
In 1973 Stanford University established the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve and two years later Searsville Lake was closed to the public. After accruing plenty of silt through the years, much of the area is now marshland covered in cattails and willows.
Today it is used for research by students and faculty and is a water source for Stanford’s golf course and other Stanford properties.