ContentsPutah and Cache: Lake Berryessa

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Spanish Flat to Monticello

Robert Thayer and Jan Goggans

After crossing Capell Creek, Route 128 meets Berryessa-Knoxville Road, which runs northeast toward Spanish Flat, on the shores of Lake Berryessa. It is said that the area near Spanish Flat is where the brothers, Jose de Jesus and Sexto Berreyesa, lived in the late 1830's. The Berreyesa brothers were two of eleven children of Nasario Berreyesa, the original Spanish settler of the valley which now lies beneath the reservoir. Jose de Jesus and Sexto were the original grantees of Rancho Las Putas. "Lake" Berryessa is named after them, as is the community of Spanish Flat.

Northeast of the Berryessa Headquarters of the Bureau of Reclamation's site, is the old town of Monticello, formerly the center of a farming and ranching community occupying the Berryessa Valley and now well under water. Before its inundation by the filling reservoir in 1956, the culture and character of Monticello were captured in photographs by Dorothea Lange and Pirkle Jones.

The Vacaville Museum holds diaries and photographs of many of the old town's residents. There, you can find descriptions such as this one of the life many residents fought to keep when the dam was finally slated for construction:

You lived more or less in a world of your own. There was a card club that met once a month . . . . [e]very so often it was a tamale feed. We had a number of picnics each year...We had lots of cream and eggs but if you wanted ice cream, which we did, you had to get one hundred pounds of ice from Napa on the stage. All in all it was a good life, a feeling of security and togetherness which is missing today.

Five miles beyond Spanish Flat, and well past the Capell Cove, is a sign labeled "Monticello Cemetery." The road, Spanish Flat Loop Road, runs to the right, and from there, it's slightly under a quarter of a mile to the "new" Monticello Cemetery. A small, grassy area surrounded by chain link fence, the cemetery contains a host of markers, the oldest of which were moved along with the coffins when Monticello's cemetery was disinterred to make way for the incoming reservoir waters. Some of the headstones date back to the 1800's, and the cool, pale white marble is carved with angels and "drapes," the inscriptions tender and homespun. Occasionally, a simple, unmarked chunk of marble rises abruptly out of the grass. You cannot help but notice the proportionately high number of markers for babies and children, names with a one year life span, names with the years (7) and days (11) inscribed in the stone. And, along with the family plots, large markers inscribed with several names or single, elegantly molded last name stones surrounded by individual, much simpler first name markers, there are also several nearly anonymous markers-Shirley C., H.E S., Father, Mother.

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Monticello Dam
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Upper Putah Creek