Ament Dam: A forgotten structure in time

A castle in the woods. Ament Dam powerhouse. (John Stoeckl/News 10)

If you happen to enjoy disc golf and are looking for a place to not only test your frisbee skills but also step into a piece of history, go no further than Tom Pearce Park in Grants Pass. Wandering through the trees, you’ll come upon a castle-like structure covered in graffiti that is about as unexpected as - well, a castle in the woods in southern Oregon.

Arches adorn the structure of all that is left of the Ament Dam: the powerhouse. Above one arch, “1911” is etched in the stone indicating the year the dam went into commission.

“I’m sure that most people that go through there and play disc golf don’t realize how old that is,” Joan Momsen of the Josephine County Historical Society said. “They maybe look up and see 1911 and it doesn’t ring a bell with them.”

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The powerhouse now sits 200 feet from the Rogue River. The original dam was called a “crib” dam, made up of 12-foot long timber filled with rocks and gravel. It was connected to the stone powerhouse and viaduct that brought water to Grants Pass.

But looks are deceiving. You are only looking at the top floor of a 3-floor structure. The bottom two floors were filled with mud, silt, and debris from floods in the mid-1940s and 1960s. The last peak of the 2nd floor was around 1964 when a historical photo shows college students acting out a Shakespearean play.

Joan Momsen of the Josephine County Historical Society did considerable research on the dam and even wrote a photobook called “Another Dam Book.” She collected old photographs and read newspaper clippings, compiling the history of the old structure.

The dam blew up in the early 1920s around the time the Savage Rapids Dam was being constructed to replace it. A popular notion is that somebody blew up the dam on purpose to free the fish flow. Momsen said the real story is different.

“It was determined it was a belt that split. It wasn't sabotage,” Momsen said. “Nobody was trying to clear the river for the fish flow. It was simply an accident of a worn belt.”

All that’s left today is the top floor of the powerhouse. At this time, there are no plans to excavate the lower two floors, or even to register it as a historical site. But it is a place where you can play disc golf and step back into a moment in dam history.

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