The annual Christmas Open House at the Courthouse Museum is from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.
The halls of this historic building will again be decorated by the community, and the magnificent courtroom will be filled with angelic voices of Christmas carolers.
This joyous occasion will most likely be blessed with rain. Yes, it looks like this Christmas season is going to be a soggy one.
Rain will fill the reservoirs and snow will pack the mountains. Hopefully, it will rain enough for next year, but not too much to be a repeat of the Christmas flood of 1955.
Disastrous floods are part of Merced's environment. On April 6, 1935, overflow from Bear Creek swept through Merced streets and water poured through homes and businesses. Area groups, including the city, county and Merced Irrigation District began a campaign for flood control shortly after the devastating 1935 flood.
Congress created the Merced Stream Group flood control project that would eventually establish dams on the Mariposa, Burns, Owens and Bear Creeks. During World War II, funding for the Merced Stream Group flood control project was cut and Bear Creek Dam (or Bear Dam) construction was deferred, although the other dams were built.
It was not until another disastrous flood on November 19, 1950, known as the "Thanksgiving Flood," that the pleas for a Bear Creek Dam were heard. Four check dams -- Bear Dam, Mariposa Dam, Owens Dam and Burns Dam -- were eventually built by the Army Corps of Engineers to control the flooding of the valley floor.
With the check dams in place, Merced was in a better position for flood control. In the face of Christmas Flood of 1955, as reported by the Merced Sun-Star on Dec. 27, "The only thing that saved Merced and the Merced area from complete disaster during the weekend flood was the recently completed Merced Stream Group flood control project."
The Christmas Flood was described as a 100-year flood that started when three days of heavy rainfall in Yosemite and the melting of the snowpack created a dangerous flood situation in the areas downstream.
The Merced River, for example, reached an all-time peak at 10 a.m. on Dec. 23 when 101,500 feet per second was recorded.
In the city of Merced, Bear Creek was closely monitored when the floodwater lapped at the crest of Bear Creek Dam on the morning of Dec. 23. In addition to the threat of the rising creek, the city battled water-filled streets as drains clogged and dislodged tree limbs washed against the M Street Bridge.
On Dec. 24, some Merced residents in the Ragsdale neighborhood between Third and Sixth Avenues woke up with floodwater in their homes. Soon the water swamped the area between Ragsdale and the McKee Road Bridge and formed a huge lake moving southward towards the Santa Fe Railroad. Families in what was known as Sierra Gardens were evacuated and sandbags continued to be placed along the banks of Bear Creek.
By afternoon, some floodwater went over the railroad bridges into east Merced and the rest went westward to the north side of the tracks and spilled over G Street.
According to the city, floodwater was kept away from downtown because of the East Merced drainage district in which drainage pipes were laid in the eastern portion of Merced. A ditch ran along G Grade when this road was used as a flood buffer before the drainage district was developed and the grade was leveled.
Although the Christmas Flood of 1955 sounds devastating, Merced had averted a major flood disaster in part because of the work of the East Merced Drainage District and the Merced Stream Group, especially its flood control project.
Success in fighting the flood can also be attributed to more than 1,000 volunteers who put up 6,500 sandbags to buttress the Bear Creek levee, helped to coordinate evacuation and relief efforts, and filled in wherever they were needed.
Even though Christmas in 1955 was a wet one, it turned out to be one in which the community joined together to battle damaging floodwaters.
Rain or shine, please join in making our holiday celebration at the Courthouse Museum a memorable and joyous event Sunday.
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at email@example.com.