First Colusa Water Carnival held in 1909

When Colusa was incorporated in the summer of 1868, the city had a population of about 300 people living within one mile of the Sacramento River. For decades, large paddle steamers cruised up and down the river almost exclusively for commercial purposes. It wasn’t until shortly after the turn of the 20th century that recreational motor boats started to appear in Colusa. 

On June 19, 1909, Colusa hosted the first Water Carnival. 

According to an article written by John H. Miller, Jr. for “Pacific Motor Boat” in August, 1909, Colusa awoke to the recreational possibilities the river afforded when the city united with the Sacramento Valley Development Association to include boating races as a way to make the SVDA meeting the biggest and most successful in history. 

According to Miller, more than 40 boats, mostly from Sacramento, made the trip to Colusa to participate in the big event. Smaller boats were towed, but larger boats, including the “Merry Widow,” in the charge of Commodore J. T. Lefevre of the Sacramento Boat Club, the “Emma,” the “Pirate,” and the “Mariuch,” made the 200 mile round trip on the river under their own power. The brigade left Sacramento the morning of June 16 and made the journey as far as Knights Landing the first day. They reached Grimes on the second day, and then powered into Colusa all in good condition on the third day. Miller said the Colusa people had been warned the boats were coming and hundreds were on the banks of the river to welcome them when they arrived. Later in the day, a score or more other boats sailed into the city for the following day’s carnival.  

Races included a special 5-mile race, a 10-mile distance event, a 7.5-mile semi-speed race, a 2.5-mile event for 6 hp boats, a 10-mile speedboat race, and a 2.5-mile free-for-all. Miller said the 2.5-mile free-for-all was the “prettiest race of the day,” and earned the “Marathon,” owned by Capt. Paul Butler of the Vallejo Rowing and Yacht Club, the silver cup. 

“The afternoon passed off without a serious mishap, although one or two minor accidents interfered somewhat with the pleasures of the day,” Miller wrote. “On the whole, the speed races were considered successful by motor boat enthusiasts.” 

According to an article in the San Francisco Call, the Colusa Water Carnival included a decorated boat parade, two hot air balloon ascensions, and other activities of interest. Approximately 5,000 people attended the festivities, which concluded with a dance on the river aboard a large floating barge. ■