The Quaint Town of Etna
By Gary VanDeWalker
Photo: Taryn Burkleo
Over the mountains from Yreka, the line of Highway 3 wanders a peaceful path through the green and golden fields of the Scott Valley. Cows and deer meander through the same fields, while mountains surround and shield those who live here. Hudson Bay Company trappers walked here, declaring it a rich place for beaver. The valley changed with the discovery of gold. The quiet gave way to miners, who established a town they named after their character, Rough and Ready.
Today, the city—now named Etna—stands in quiet vigil at the south end of the valley. The miners’ voices are echoes in the trees, as the streets are occupied now with farmers and the families who make this home. Schoolchildren line up at the ice cream counter at the Scott Valley Drug store. Couples walk past the Etna Museum, which was built as the town hall, but has also served as the fire hall, library and jail over the past century. Historical homes retain the feeling of Etna’s history.
Rough and Ready was home to a flour mill, built in 1867 to provide supplies for the miners. Nearby, another settlement had been home to a mill called Aetna Mills. Flooding five years earlier caused the businesses of Aetna Mills to move to the neighboring community. In 1870, with the realization that having several towns named “Rough and Ready” in California was confusing, the town adopted the name Etna Mills, shortening it to Etna in the 1930s.
In 1897, the Collier Hotel was built as a brothel. The two-story, six-bedroom building was converted in the 1930s to a boarding house. In the 1960s, it became a private home, then a vacation rental. In 2012, the building became a hotel, now a place for travelers exploring the community. Its white balcony wraps around the upper story, giving the visitor a view of the gold rush community, which lies in walking distance. Its large windows and hardwood floors bring to reality the shadows of the past.
Charles Kappler came to the Scott Valley, buying a brewery in 1868 and moving it to Etna in 1872. Kappler’s four horse-drawn wagons delivered beer through the region, bringing in over a quarter-million dollars each year. The brewery was successful until Prohibition shut it down in 1920. In 1990, Etna Brewery was rebuilt and opened on the site of the original bottling plant, near the location of the first town brewery. The addition of a pub now brings award-winning beers and food to the area, including its famous Blackberry Blonde brew.
Etna is preserved in this hidden valley of Siskiyou County. Here trappers, miners, stagecoach drivers, and cowboys have given way to ranchers, farmers and entrepreneurs, but the spirit of individuality and hard work remains. The same Marble Mountains, which loomed over her a century ago, look down on her. The ribbon of Highway 3 continues, leaving for the Trinity Mountains, yet never forgets the gold of this small town. •