Redding began as a camp for outcasts : the railroads put it on the map.

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history of Redding California

A very improbable "holy city" (don't laugh)

Poverty Flats

Redding's oldest house of worship
Redding's Oldest Church
was this little Negro gospel church

History plays a trick

What a turn-around history has performed on the two cities of Shasta (now known as Old Shasta) and Redding (then known as Poverty Flats).

The award for "first city" in then-Shasta County, back when it stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the stateline touching the Nevada territory -- has to go to the boom town of Shasta. This gold town actually sprung into existence while still under Mexican rule, and its premier official was the alcalde (Benjamin Shurtleff), an office the Spanish had inherited from their Moorish past.

Shasta, first called Reading Springs (pronounced same as Redding), was the product of gold fever, and the dominant men of that day and age, in their wisdom decided that for the sake of racial harmony, Shasta should be a wholly "white" town. Accordingly, non-whites were left to fend for themselves. And so, a settlement -- scarcely a camp or shanty-town at first -- began to form on the south bank at the curve of the Sacramento River, nicknamed "Poverty Flats." In the spring it was subject to flooding, which did not occur every year. In its hardscrabble beginnings, Poverty Flats (Redding) epitomized multiculturalism and diversity from the get go. The population was a motley crew of Indians, African-Americans, and a mushrooming contingent of Chinese.

Shasta was the launching point for prospectors setting out by mule train or on foot into the gold fields of the Trinity's to the west, the Siskiyou's and Cascades to the north. It's hustle and bustle were fueled by gold fever, and an excess of youthful males from the eastern states (and even over seas). Those who had come by wagon from Red Bluff, the terminus for river travel (stern wheelers, etc) from San Francisco, found that wagons or stage could not be taken further into the mountains. Shasta was as far as wagon or stage travel took you, and thus Old Shasta's epithet "the head of WHOA navigation." The way to Weaverville and the gold fields was (at first) strictly pack animals.

Shasta was, in the earliest days of "Anglo" or Yankee California, a bustling town renowned for its attraction as the QUEEN CITY of northern California. The oldest chartered Masonic Lodge in California began here. It is still in operation, the "Western Star Lodge No, 2, Free and Accepted Masons." Built in Shasta, 1854. See more

It was not until the coming of the railroad in 1872 that "Poverty Flats" came into its own. Previously Shasta boomed as the Queen City of the north. By the 1870's the years of "gold mania" had by and large passed and Shasta was in decline. More than just a settlement, "Poverty Flats" was now going by the name of Reading (pronounced Redding).

With the C&O Railroad, suddenly the town was deserving of a name more becoming its newfound dignity. The young "Reading" was the new nexus for surrounding towns and villages, a hub for the growing logging industry.

Similarly, the multiracial population of the earliest (Poverty Flats) days began to fade (or whiten). The somewhat rigid segregationism was relieved, as history so often shows, by inevitable gaps. Simple economic self-interest demanded that the races cooperate, where cooperation was not only unavoidable, but in the mutual interests of all concerned.

Moreover there were always romantic liaisons. The early day predominance of males had the inevitable consequence that women made themselves available for short-term or longer term companionship. Many of these connections were inter-racial. The history of gold rush California abounds with the instances of relationships that would have raised eyebrows in more decent and "civilized" cities of the East, with their inevitable component of respectable snobbery and prudishness.

Redding's coming of age would have to be associated with the advent of the California and Oregon Railroad, in 1872. It was then that the spelling first began to change from Reading to Redding (though the pronunciation remained the same). The earlier days of the Poverty Flats encampment gave way to an up-and-coming town, with all the modern (for the times) accoutrements. Obviously, the river town of Red Bluff had an elegance and affluence that the upstart Redding could only envy -- and laboriously strive to emulate. If the Sacramento River had "made" Red Bluff, it was the railroad that made Redding.

Historians grant to Chauncey Carroll Bush (CC Bush) the accolade of Father of Redding. (Cf. Edward Petersen; Cf. John Lawson). The 1870s were a bustling decade. There was disagreement whether the spelling of the town would be Reading or Redding, but the older name (Poverty Flats) was disdained by all. In 1887 the voters decided to incorporate and the next year, 1888, the county seat was moved from Shasta to Redding. Incidentally, the town's newspaper, the Independent, was still referring to the town as "Reading" as late as 1880.

Poverty Flats had been interracial from the beginning. But after the railroad came in 1872, it began attracting "Queen" Shasta's citizens, businesses, and wealth. The Italians had a neighborhood of their own, and built a Church east of the railroad (Saint Joseph's on Lincoln and Waldron) in the mid 1880s, with Portuguese at their side. (It later burned.) The cemetery is still there, and still used. (The 1884 church was west of the railroad, "block 45" bordered by Oregon, South and facing north to Sacramento.)

In the 1890's the black holiness Church, with its "hush-arbor" roots and Wesleyan tinge, built its church on the corner of Trinity and California (also next to the C&O railroad). The church eventually became AME (African Methodist Episcopal Zion), and the structure still stands, the oldest Reading church continuously in existence (and still standing). Earlier church structures had been built, but none exist to this day. The Presbyterian seems to have been earliest, built in 1881 on the southeast corner of Pine and Butte.

Lorenz Hotel vintage 1902
Hotel Lorenz
Who built Hotel Lorenz?

The Lorenz Hotel was built with the gold wealth of the (Bavarian) Lorenz family, which owned the lucrative Red Hill Gold mine operations near Junction City in Trinity County. Being German, perhaps they had a more prudent style of managing their fortune, which did not dissipate the way the vast majority of gold rush fortunes did. The site of the Lorenz Hotel on Yuba Street had been marshy ground which formed a shallow pond known as Castle Lake during the rainy winter and spring months, attracting waterfowl.

The Lorenz was the second four story Hotel built in Redding about that time. In 1889, the Temple Hotel had been built on the southeast corner of Tehama and Market, and soon was celebrated as the tallest building north of Sacramento City. Susan Lorenz set out to outdo the Temple with her own four story hotel. see.

The first mining attraction (gold) -- so responsible for the prompt statehood of the former Mexican province of California -- gave way to other mineral boons. Redding's attraction was copper.

The smelting of copper was an involved operation, or series of operations, involving substantial investment before there was any hope of return. But the foothills were rich in the suflides (ore) from which the copper could be produced. The copper boom lasted for three decades, the 1890s to 1919 roughly.

Five mines and smelters flourished during part or all of those years. Keswick (Iron Mountain) was first in point of time. Coram (Balaklala) and Kennett (Mammoth Mine) produced the most in terms of output. Bully Hill was located on the Pit River. And fifth, the Ingot mine also went by the name of Afterthought.

Lumber and paper and forest products generally were also a source of livelihood right from the start. It was to Major Reading's business partner Samuel Hensley that credit belongs for the first timber cutting operation in northern California. Rafting the logs down Battle Creek, then down the Sacramento River, Hensley found himself a profitable niche in the development of early day California.

Shasta Dam was one of the New Deal projects of the Roosevelt administration. Reclamation and flood control had long been seen as a needed investment by scientists, agricultrual sages and environmentalists. But FDR's visionaries saw a way to kill two birds with one stone. Projects such as the Central Valley reclamation project would both put men to work, and contribute to the forward-looking ideals of flood control, irrigation and electric power. Shasta Dam was the first of the dams of this project, the CVP -- followed at once by Friant Dam just north of Fresno.

Called Kennett Dam before its construction, Shasta Dam is now the ninth-tallest dam in the United States and forms the largest reservoir in California. Envisioned as early as 1919 because of frequent floods and droughts troubling California's largest agricultural region, the Central Valley, the dam was first authorized in the 1930s as a state undertaking.

However, this coincided with the Great Depression and building of the dam was transferred to the federal Bureau of Reclamation as a public works project. Construction started in earnest in 1937 under the supervision of Chief Engineer Frank Crowe. During its building, the dam provided thousands of much-needed jobs; men from the hardest hit areas of the country flocked to the Redding area to help in its construction, and the Boom Towns of the present Shasta Lake City sprang into being as a result. The Dam was finished twenty-six months ahead of schedule in 1945, having been cut short on account of the war. When completed, the dam was the second-tallest in the United States after Hoover, and was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of all time.

Even before its dedication, Shasta Dam served an important role in World War II providing electricity to California factories, and still plays a vital part in the management of state water resources today. It has been said that the CVP is indirectly responsible for the surge in California's output which resulted in the state becoming the largest agricultural producer in the nation, the most powerful economy in the nation (surpassing all the other states) and currently the fifth largest of all the economies round the globe.

The Central Valley Project, costing in the millions, the dividends have been in multiple TRILLIONS of dollars.

Redding's Modern Revival
Mayor Mary Stegall, the wife of Methodist minister Bill Stegall, became one of a small but visionary group of far-sighted leaders who, when she was Mayor, spearheaded a Revival in Redding that transformed the face and put pride back in our city's step. She is credited (along with Mike Warren) with the Sundial Bridge, Big League Dreams, the Aquatic Center, Market Street Promenade, Turtle Bay Exploration Park and our first-class library, which has put new hope into the entire Parkview area. Her goal was always future oriented, harmonizing long term betterment with present reality. That is, to encourage Redding to grow responsibly while maintaining our quality of life.

Mary Stegall steps aside. When announcing her retirement, she told Doni Greenberg, "Someone told me once that running for elected office requires a passion for what you are going to do. I know that's true. It takes a lot of gumption to put yourself out there and you have to believe in yourself to do it. You need to know who you are and what you stand for. People asked me many times why I was doing this and my response was, "I can't help it. It's in my DNA." It wasn't meant to be a flip response. It was really true. Running for local office was something I had wanted to do for a long time, and when the opportunity presented itself I went for it."

Raising the Roof: the promenade (walking the walk)

Puente de la Mujer

Redding's Sundial Bridge
Robert Syms

Dottie Smith article: Phoebe Colburn, freed slave who made a fortune

Shasta Historical Society
Redding as a Beloved City
They built the Lorenz Hotel
The Jedediah Smith Story
Chinese Role in old west
Gazelle School History
Pioneer Baby's Grave
Trinity Museum
Hayfork Valley (History)
Whitmore History
Red Bluff History
Days of the Dons
Redding Jobs link
Redding Historic sites
Sierra Nevada virtual museum
Redding's LORENZ Hotel, brief history
Celebrating diversity - interfaith Event
Old Cottonwood, Way Back When

Early Buildings of Redding California
Frisbie Mansion 1246 East Street 1887
IOOF Building [Firth Store] 1445 Butte Street (1504 Market) 1888
Temple Hotel [non-extant] Tehama & Market Street 1889
AME Holiness Church California & Trinity 1894
Bank of Shasta County 1459 Market Street 1901
Lorenz Hotel [photo above] 1509 Yuba Street 1902

~ Diversity Award ~
San Francisco Gate Bridge
Another Bridge to Freedom

Building of the Lorenz Hotel

According to Eleanor Ramsey and Janice Lewis, Redding's Lorenz Hotel was designed and built by a team of black men, who had worked their way up through the building trades of pioneer California. Ramsey and Lewis write that "During the nineteenth century, it was commonplace for a master carpenter or brickmason to both design and construct buildings, a practice which continued into the twentieth century. These early builder-architects created much of the environment that now represents the state's architectural history. Included in this group were Black men. However, Black builder-architects, like their White contemporaries, have remained virtually anonymous, save for recollections and eyewitness accounts recorded in people's memories."

Four of these almost forgotten builder-architects, both master carpenters and brick-masons, were Robert Booker, John Barber, John Coleman, and Lemuel Grant -- black men whose credentials were not diplomas or paper degrees but sheer experience -- native smarts and intelligence gained through the school of "sweat and hard knocks." [Cultural History: African Americans. A History of Black Americans in California.] see.

When it was constructed, the Lorenz was considered one of Redding's most prestigious hotels. The author of a 1903 article on the "Lady Lorenz" declared that it was the "largest and handsomest hotel in all Northern California." The focus of its location was the railroad, which stopped just north of the Hotel. It was "sheer luxury" for those times, and while it did not have an elevator at the time of its construction, we are told that an "electric lift" was installed almost immediately afterward.

The lobby of the "Lady Lorenz" was regarded as the epitome of classy elegance, It boasted high ceilings, a stairway on either side, two large French mirrors, and even a six-foot grandfather clock. Today, the hotel is the third-oldest brick building in Redding. And of those, it is the tallest (in the historic department).

By a somewhat surprising quirk of history, descendants of the Lorenz family continued to own, manage, and operate the Lorenz from its construction at the turn of the century (1901-1902) on into the 1970s. Susan Lorenz and her husband Henry were solid pioneering folk who had twelve children (12) during their 38 year marriage. When Henry died in 1895, his widow began looking for something a little more within her realm of inclination than mining (which she left to her sons). She bought the land for the Lorenz in Redding.

Many descendents of this pioneer family (offspring of Henry and Susan) continue to reside in Trinity and Shasta Counties today.

A very improbable "holy city" (don't laugh)

Who started the Pray for Redding thing still going as of 2012. No it wasn't Bill Johnson, as everyone seems to think. Certainly Bill Johnson has made the push famous -- worldwide even. I rather suspect the earliest source may have been with Father Jim Wilson, the originator of Pray Northstate over a decade ago. Or going even further back, don't rule out one of Reddings tiny, but very spiritual "new age" faiths -- no doubt belonging to the Interfaith forum -- back then they were bold trailblazers for unity when other denomominations seemed busy contending with one another, or pre-occupied with internal matters.

Oh What a Beautiful City
YOU-TUBE (the old gospel spiritual)
[Supernatural joy ~ revival for our kind of town]

ITEM: Redding is the "Second Sunniest City in the USA" - right behind Yuma AZ

Redding has 88% sunshine days, annually

Redding, California is teeming with wonderful adventures. Whether your idea of a great vacation means hiking backwoods trails, kayaking pristine lakes, or skiing some of the most breathtaking terrain in the country, the Shasta Cascade sets the stage for an unforgettable experience. Redding's Pioneer Days come alive at the Jake Jackson Memorial Museum, while a helicopter tour of the granite peaks, pristine mountain lakes, and cascading waterfalls of the Trinity Alps offer a look at the area from an exhilarating perspective. Delve into man's complex relationship with nature at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, or engage in a little retail therapy at the area's eclectic malls, shops and boutiques. There are so many great things to do in and around Redding, you might just have to come back a second and third time!

Piety Hill
April 18, 2013
Gail Fiorini-Jenner gives us a bit of background -- The Piety Hill story

Piety Hill, an 1849 gold mining settlement in the heart of Wintu Territory, was the first community built west of Clear Creek in Shasta County, Calif. The miners had followed the gold deposits up the gulches of Clear Creek toward Dry Creek. For a time, the town had 1,500 residents, including 600 Chinese.

Two versions explain the town's name. It was either named for its pious residents, highly unlikely, or for one of its residents, Grandma McKinney, who came from Piety Hill, Mich.

The Hardscrabble Mining Co. learned the town was sitting on an ancient riverbed and made plans to mine the area hydraulically. In response, the white residents moved west and established the town of Igo. The Chinese stayed behind.

The hydraulic mining operation never got underway, and eventually the Anti-Debris Act outlawed hydraulic mining.

In 1884, the area's water rights passed to a Mr. Hayward who hoped to establish fruit and olive orchards. In 1907, those water rights were sold to Happy Valley Land and Water Company.

Today, two dry reservoirs, mining ditches, dug-out house cellars and a historic monument stand as testament to the long-forgotten gold rush town of Piety Hill.

Sources: "History and Happenings, Acorns of Information About Local History and Genealogy." Southwest Shasta Historical Group. Viewed at; Smith, Dotty. "Ghost Towns." Shasta County Viewed at; "Travelin' in Time: Piety Hill finally has a historical monument." The Redding Searchlight. Viewed at


Dream Songs and Ceremony
Frank R. LaPena

Frank LaPena's book is the closest thing to a prayer that any combination of words and art can be. Its sensitive evocation of place --- and the ancient relationships of Native people to a living landscape, is truly marvelous. I can think of no other book in recent years which succeeds so well on so many levels.

(Joseph Bruchac, poet and editor)

Robert Shepherd (facebook)

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walking the walk
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IS ~ talking the talk

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