Remembering Historic Tehama
By Al Rocca
Time TravelAugust 2016
Story by Al Rocca
Photo Courtesy of Tehama County Library
Travelers on Highway 99, heading south from Red Bluff or north from Chico, slow down as they pass through the vibrant small community of Los Molinos. Some stop for gas, others for a quick meal. Most miss the small sign at Aramayo Way that points west and reads, “Tehama 1 mile.” In the mid- to late 19th century the town of Tehama thrived with a prosperous agricultural based economy and the hope of securing the county seat.
Robert Thomes and Albert Toomes, both recent arrivals to San Francisco from the east coast, met in 1841 and worked building homes in the rapidly growing city. After a brief stint in Monterey, the young men came upon the idea of heading north into the Sacramento Valley in search of good cattle-grazing land. Thomes and Toomes convinced two other dreamers to come along, William Chard and Jake Dye. They liked what they saw, and during a brief stop for rest and water near what is now Elder Creek, Thomes declared, “Boys, land that will grow such trees as these is good enough for me. Here is where I’ll live, and here is where I’ll die.” The others agreed, and within a year, they all asked Mexican authorities in Monterey for permission to establish a “land grant” in the area. Thomes and Toomes each received rancho lands extending over 23,000 acres. Thomes preferred the land south of Elder Creek, while Toomes’ grant focused on land along the eastern bank of the Sacramento River stretching south of Mill Creek. Chard’s land meandered north of Elder Creek, while Dye put down roots north of Mill Creek.
In 1845, Thomes and Toomes decided the area needed a town center and chose the present site of Tehama as the best location. They constructed a rude adobe building of “mud, sticks and stones.” The four pioneers used the building as a meeting place, and later it was converted into an overnight inn and then a hotel.
Meanwhile, others saw the attraction of water and good soil. One of these enterprising men, William Ide, moved his family into the area late in 1845. Ide, looking for a profitable crop to sustain a living, experimented with wheat and soon learned that the much-needed grain grew successfully. Word spread quickly and others, many others, followed Ide. Wheat fields spread along both sides of the Sacramento River.
More settlers arrived in 1846 and Toomes realized the need for a ferry. He started operations at Tehama. Farmers saw this as a natural location to cross the Sacramento River and also as a central collection point for harvesting grain and traveling south by ferry boat. By 1850, the tiny town appeared well on its way economically, so Thomes and Toomes decided to lay out a real city. The next year, the stagecoach arrived, followed by the first newspaper, the Tehama Gazette, in 1858. By this time, riverboats plied the Sacramento River all the way to Tehama, connecting the area to the outside world.
Tehama continued to grow throughout the 1860s, but the real excitement arrived in 1871, when it was learned that the railroad from Marysville would be brought up the Sacramento Valley. The town of Tehama was selected by railroad officials to be the critical point where a bridge would be built to cross the Sacramento River—thus allowing the railroad to continue north to the growing communities of Red Bluff and Redding. With the coming of the railroad, riverboat usage declined.
Tehama finally incorporated in 1906, but as the automobile appeared in later decades, the town declined. While engineers laid out Highway 99 only one mile to the east of the town, it was a long one mile across the Sacramento River.
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