The Past and Present Shasta
By Brandi Barnett
Boom or BustApril 2007
Story and photos by Wyatt Olson
Just six miles west of Redding on Highway 299 lies a long row of brick ruins that were once “the Queen City of the North,” now known simply as Shasta. many do not know the intriguing history behind this gold rush boomtown.
In 1848, there was a monumental occurrence in american history that sparked the founding of many cities in the west: the discovery of gold in California. Gold fever spread across the country and everyone rushed here to stub his toe on a big nugget.
Pierson Barton Reading changed the entire demographics of the North State in 1948 by finding gold in what would become Shasta. The word of his discovery spread toward San Francisco and Sacramento. Shasta became, “The Second Gold Rush.”
Thousands came and by 1849 a makeshift “town” of tents was formed and christened Reading Springs. The tent city led to a plethora of businesses that profited greatly off the miners. in 1850, the town was renamed Shasta. By 1852, $2.5 million in gold had passed through Shasta, but tragically, that same year a major fire burned down most of the town. Shasta was rebuilt, but just six months later, another fire burned the town’s 70 buildings to a crisp.
The residents were persistent and rebuilt again, this time using bricks and iron. as gold declined, so did the town’s success. Shasta was struck another blow in 1860 when a major railroad depot was built six miles east of Shasta in an area known as Poverty Flats – or, as we know it today, Redding. in 1888, the county seat moved to Redding and Shasta was all but abandoned. The row of buildings on the highway is all that remains of one of the most influential towns in the North State.
This area is now part of Shasta State Historic Park (SSHP). The park contains the courthouse museum, the Blumb Bakery, Litsch General mercantile, The Leo Store and many other attractions. The museum opened in 1950 and has been restored to its original 1861 appearance. The courthouse contains original artifacts and period replicas of the
courthouse’s courtroom and jail, as well as an extensive art collection depicting 100 years of California art. One of the most popular attractions for children is the jail, and “jake,” the holographic storyteller.
There are other gems on Shasta’s streets. The Litsch General mercantile is one of Shasta’s original buildings restored to its 1880s appearance. This store is open during the summer and fall when period-costumed volunteers or park staff provide guided tours.
Another restored building is the Blumb Bakery. it has the original 1870s brick oven that is still fully functioning and is sometimes used for baking demonstrations.
if you dare, you can take a short walk down trinity alley to visit the Shasta Union Cemetery, the first cemetery in Shasta County. Once a year, in October, the park offers guided moonlight tours of the cemetery for those who want to brave the cemetery at night.
Although the park may seem like a ghost town, it comes alive with activity every Thursday and Friday, from February to June. Thousands of students from all over Shasta County come to visit the park. On Fridays, students interact with the Stellar Living History docents. The docents
volunteer at the park and are 5th through 12th grade students from Stellar Charter School. The docents portray prominent citizens of 1850s Shasta. They dress in period clothing, use period language, and provide crafts, games, and tours of the cemetery.
There are also many other fun activities in the town of Shasta. On may 12th and 13th, the Shasta Service Guild utilizes Shasta elementary as a venue for the mother’s Day art Fair where local artisans come and sell their goods. There is also music by fiddlers and local musicians from around the county.
Starting on April 1st, the park will be open from 10 am – 5 pm on Wednesdays through Sundays, but the park recommends calling ahead to confirm visiting hours (530-243-8194).