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Enjoy Magazine

Downtown Old Shasta

03/25/2015 07:42AM ● By Jon Lewis

Gold Nugget

April 2015
Story and photos by Jon Lewis

A lot of the fun in visiting downtown Shasta comes from thinking about what used to be. Spend a few minutes poking around the brick ruins on the south side of Highway 299 just west of Redding and visions of life in a bustling 1850s mercantile come to mind.

It’s quiet these days, save for the cars and trucks heading to Whiskeytown Lake, French Gulch and points farther west, but life in the former county seat was anything but calm back in the day when gold was king and Shasta was the staging ground for adventurers seeking fortune on the Oregon Trail.

As the commercial and social hub for Northern California, Shasta boasted of stores, hotels, saloons, bakeries and lodges. By 1852—a mere four years after Major Pierson B. Reading discovered gold in Clear Creek—historians estimate more than $2.5 million in gold had made its way through town.

The hustle and gold-seeking bustle is a memory now, but it’s a well-preserved and well-documented memory, thanks to the establishment of the Shasta State Historic Park.

The park’s layout and operation is low-key, which helps make it easy to enjoy each visit. Informative plaques are positioned in strategic spots, and they do a good job of telling the story of Shasta’s ascension to the lofty status of “Queen City” and the Shasta County seat, as well as its return to earth as gold claims petered out and the fledgling Central Pacific Railroad attracted folks to Redding.

Fire played an important role in Shasta’s past. One blaze in December 1852 leveled much of the town and shortly after residents had rebuilt, another blaze came through and destroyed some 70 businesses on Main Street.

Merchants rebuilt with fireproof brick and thick iron shutters, the remains of which are still in place.

Not all has been relegated to the past, however. The Litsch Store has been carefully restored and visitors in the summer and fall can duck in and enjoy what it was like to shop in a general merchandise store in the 1870s and 1880s. The Litsch Store was operated as a family business until 1960, when it was acquired by the state park.

Next to the store is the Blumb Bakery, which was rebuilt in the early 1990s. Henry Blumb, a native of Germany who was drawn to California in pursuit of gold, came to realize the value in providing the hard-working miners with fresh-baked bread and pastries and fired up his big brick oven in the late 1870s.

Blumb supplemented the bakery business by having it double as a saloon that served locally brewed beer. It became such a fixture in town that it remained in business long after the gold rush had subsided. Today, the bakery is available for touring on an intermittent basis and baking demonstrations are offered during special events.

Another sterling example of Shasta’s past—and present—is the Western Star Lodge No. 2 of the Free & Accepted Masons, the oldest chartered lodge in California. The lodge was chartered in Missouri in 1848; Saschel Woods brought the charter west on Peter Lassen’s wagon train in 1849 and it was transferred to the Main Street building in 1854.

Although the lodge was the first to meet and organize in the state, it was assigned the number 2 due to some faulty information available at the time. Lodge members continue to meet there and occasionally host public breakfasts. The Masons also maintain a cemetery southwest of downtown.

The Courthouse Museum is the star attraction for most. In addition to housing the park’s visitor center, the museum features an exhibit of works by 71 California artists. The 98 paintings were donated by Mae Helene Bacon Boggs, who moved to Shasta from Missouri as a child and later helped lead the 1920s effort to preserve Shasta’s remaining buildings. A restored 1860s courtroom, jail and gallows also provide a glimpse into Shasta’s colorful past.

Today, much of Shasta is supported by the Town of Shasta Interpretive Association, a nonprofit organization that helps fund school group visits, student docent programs and cultural events.

Shasta is located 6 miles west of Redding on Highway 299 • (530) 243-8194