Shasta Lake Heritage and Historical Society’s Boomtown Museum
By Laura Christman
Story by Laura Christman
Photos by Folk & Pine
THE PLACE called Boomtown (later Central Valley, now Shasta Lake City) began with dirt streets, tents and the promise of work. It was The Great Depression and hundreds – eventually thousands – came to help build Shasta Dam. Boomtown Museum tells their stories.
Shasta Lake Heritage and Historical Society’s new museum is filled with photographs, artifacts and plenty of heart. It opened last October in the former community center on Median Avenue now known as Shasta Lake Visitor Center. The center also is home to Shasta Lake Gateway Library and Shasta Lake Chamber of Commerce.
The small, volunteer-run museum focuses on workers and families who lived in Central Valley and the other boomtowns of Project City, Summit City and Pine Grove during the Shasta Dam construction era – 1938 to 1945.
“The building of the dam is very well documented, but the stories of the people who came here were not. We didn’t want to lose that,” says Barbara Cross, one of the historical society’s founders.
Cross and the late Evelyn Hoppes launched the organization in 2001. Both had fathers who worked on the dam. Family and friends soon joined their effort to preserve local history.
“We’re a small town and the word got out,” says Deb West, historical society board member.
“We started collecting things. What we were looking for were stories and photographs,” says Darlene Brown, president of the organization.
Interviews were done at worker/family reunions hosted by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the historical society. An unexpected treasure for the group was discovery of 1977 audio recordings of dam workers and residents interviewed by students for a Shasta County schools project. Historical society volunteers transcribed the interviews. In 2014, the historical society compiled recollections into a book titled, “Those Dam Kids.”
In addition to stories, the historical society has taken in an eclectic mix of pieces of the past from families looking for an appreciative place to donate belongings from bygone times.
“The stuff started coming in. Mining things, old pots and pans and books and jewelry,” West says.
The historical society did not have a suitable space for exhibits, however. It was located for a time in a storage building on the Knauf Fiberglass grounds and later used city-owned space in Shasta Gateway Industrial Park. The organization moved to its current quarters on Median Avenue last year. The city of Shasta Lake has long supported the work of the historical society and provides the space, Brown says.
“If it wasn’t for the support of our city, we wouldn’t be here today,” she says.
With the new digs came enough room — some 1,600 square feet — for a museum.
“We looked at the four walls and said, ‘What do we want to do? How do we want to showcase what we have?’” West recalls.
The historical society didn’t want to duplicate the story of Shasta Dam and the Central Valley Water Project already being told at Shasta Dam Visitors Center.
“We didn’t want to redo a museum of Shasta Dam,” Brown says.
Instead, Boomtown Museum is centered on the workers and life in the communities. But because the historical society’s collections encompass more than the dam-building era, the museum does, too. History about the region’s early mining days and communities up the Sacramento River Canyon, some of which are now beneath the waters of Shasta Lake, are also part of the museum.
Visitors to Boomtown Museum are greeted by 14-foot-high murals highlighting copper mining and dam building. The post office counter from the mining town of Kennett stands at one end of the room. Displays include core samples from the dam, a Shasta Hotel menu promoting a 65-cent Easter dinner, Shasta Theatre’s film project, dam worker’s hardhat, gold scale, World War I uniform, china doll, pioneer tools and map of Highway 99 through the Sacramento River Canyon.
Videos can be played on a large-screen television. Brown says there are plans for interactive exhibits, such as a challenge to tie the scaler’s knot that secured the rope to a worker’s safety belt.
The museum’s gift shop has books, DVDs and T-shirts plus locally made jewelry, soaps and other items. Nearby are the historical society’s office and a recording room for oral histories. The historical society’s collections are available for research.
Brown hopes visitors to Shasta Dam will add a stop at Boomtown Museum. “Come see it. You’ll like it – you’ll walk away with a whole new view of the history of the area.”•
Boomtown Museum • 1525 Median Ave., Shasta Lake
Hours: 10 am to 2 pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday
Summer hours: 9 am to 1 pm
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday
Admission: Adults, $3; children 12 and younger, free