Shasta Historical society
The Shasta Historical Society was formed January 18, 1930, under the name of “Trails of ‘49”, with interest in pioneer history and in historical landmarks. The charter members were: Miss Alice M Reading, Miss May Hazel Southern, Mrs. George B. Lowdon, Mrs. Edna Behrens Eaton, Charles Browne, Francis Carr, Lew Carrigan, Mr. and Mrs. B. F. Loomis, Charles Litsch, Mrs. Nettie Prehn, Mrs. Amelia Early, Mrs. Thyra Heffelfinger, Fred Dersch, James M. Bartlett and M.E. Dittmar.
The original purposes of the Shasta Historical Society were to obtain, preserve, and perpetuate the early history of Shasta and other counties of northern California and the pioneers thereof; and to identify and preserve the places of historic and romantic interest. In the years since 1930, Trinity, Siskiyou, and Modoc Counties have organized historical societies covering their particular areas, and have enthusiastic, successful organizations.
The Society was incorporated in 1951 as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. The Society has had many homes over the years beginning with the original Chamber of Commerce facility next to the old Carnegie Library, then to the Carter House in Caldwell Park, eventually moving to a shared space in the Museum of Art and History in Caldwell Park. Following the establishment of the Turtle Bay Museums, in 1998 the Society purchased its present site in Downtown Redding at 1449 Market Street. The current facility consists of a 4,400 square foot ground floor with a second level “archive section” of approximately 1,100 square feet. The building itself is historic in nature, having been built in 1902.
The story of the Shasta Historical Society began on January 18, 1930 when the Redding Chamber of Commerce brought together a remarkable group of. more than. twenty men and women for the purpose of preserving Shasta County’s history and heritage. These local leaders first met under the name Trails of ’49 Committee at the Redding Chamber of Commerce building on Yuba Street in Redding. The name Trails of ’49 Committee was a reference to the many paths pioneers came to Shasta County by during the Gold Rush. The guest speaker at the first meeting was the Honorable Superior Court Judge James William Bartlett of Trinity County, a leading authority on Northern California history and a charter member of the organization. At this inaugural meeting, May Hazel Southern, daughter of Shasta County pioneer Simeon Southern, was elected as the committee’s first president and served until 1939.
One of the committee’s first acts was to contact the California Historical Society in Oakland, CA to seek guidance, supervision, and training on how to record oral histories and preserve artifacts and ephemera. The California Historical Society, in turn, donated artifacts relating to Shasta County to the Trails of ’49 Committee from their archives.
On March 15, 1930, patrons and lawyers Orr M. Chenoweth and Francis Carr submitted plans and by-laws for the organization to organize permanently as the Shasta County Historical Society. Their proposals were unanimously adopted and the officers of the former Trails of ’49 Committee were elected to serve one year as the Society’s new officers. Fifteen directors were chosen by ballot at the next month’s regular meeting, and within a year and a half, the organization’s membership stood at sixty people. By the late 1930s, the organization changed its name to the current Shasta Historical Society. It was incorporated in 1951 as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization and is currently composed of a board of directors, full and part-time staff and volunteers dedicated to preserving its legacy.
Without a building of its own, the original Trails of ‘49 Committee first met in the Redding Chamber of Commerce’s tiny pagoda-style structure and was allowed to store its early archives in the building. In 1940, when the organization began to outgrow the building, meetings were moved to the Golden Eagle Hotel, but the archives remained in the Chamber of Commerce building. During the 1950s, Society meetings were held in Directors and members homes and the archives were stored at the Redding Chamber of Commerce and the Shasta County Recorder’s Office. On August 29, 1976 the Society moved to the Redding Museum and Art Center located at 72 Quartz Hill Road in Caldwell Park. While the Society shared a building with other organizations, its new residence did allow it to combine its operations and archives into the same location.
By 1995, the Board of Directors began planning the Society’s own museum and library building. The board visited and reviewed numerous locations in Redding and a year later approved the purchase of its current location of 1449 Market Street. The Market Street building was designed by local architect Matthew W. Herron and erected in 1902 by Shasta County pioneer Chauncey C. Bush Sr., also known as the “Father of Redding”. The building began as a post office, but like many others would have multiple lives as an assayer’s office, a Chevrolet car agency, JCPenney’s, a women’s wear shop, a hardware store, and a graphics store. In 1998, it finally became the Shasta Historical Society and fulfilled the Directors and membership’s long-awaited dream of a permanent and exclusive residence for the Society.
Historic Preservation was an important part of the Trails of ’49 Committee mission. On February 15, 1930, they met to select five of the most important historic sites in Shasta County. The committee adopted a method of marking each site by using large native boulders with inset bronze plaques containing each site’s name and description. President Southern chose the art class at Shasta Union High School to design the plaques under the oversight of J.P. Webb of Redding Iron Works. By September 15, 1931, the organization erected and dedicated the first three permanent markers. Through the years the organization has continued to play an important role in preserving, promoting, and maintaining the history of Shasta County by marking and dedicating additional historical sites with plaques.
As the Shasta Historical Society grew and expanded, they began to explore other means of disseminating the story of Shasta County. On March 27, 1930, President Southern and Mrs. Clara Archer traveled from Redding to Stillwater, now Mountain Gate, to begin recording oral histories and collecting ephemera items and photographs. The trip was a success and they brough back oral histories and other items from Mrs. Mary Smith, John W. Lutz, and other pioneer settlers from that area. The decision was then made to broaden the collection process by branching out into other Shasta County communities.
On February 2, 1938, the Society presented their first scripted play, California under Four Flags, arranged by President Southern. It told the story of the Spanish and Mexican eras in California’s history and was delivered to the Redding Chamber of Commerce forum luncheon. The following year, on May 10, 1939, the Society presented its annual pageant, A Romance of Pioneer Redding, inside the Golden Eagle Hotel. This performance was again written by President Southern and included a cast of thirty actors. The stage was set in the early days of Redding and told the story of the city’s establishment, progress, development and the people who lived here at the time.
Other projects included activities to preserve local historical landmarks. In the late 1930s the Society spearheaded the restoration of the Shasta State Historic Park’s Courthouse Museum and parklands. On June 12, 1950, the organization was present at the dedication of the Shasta State Historic Park in Shasta. Then in October of 1940 another first took place. Gertrude (Bell) Steger, a leading historian and the organization’s second president, went on record to say the Society opposed No. 13 on the November ballot, which would have permitted oil and gas leases in California state park lands, including the Shasta State Historic Park. With the Society’s support, the measure was defeated. In 1962, the Society tested its power to protect historic structures in Redding by actively pursuing, at its members request, trying to preserve and possibly buy the Carnegie Library building on Yuba Street. The Redding City Council had hired an engineer who deemed the structure unsound and estimated a cost of up to $60,000 to restore it to its original condition. Due the associated high costs and the influence of the Redding City Manager, it was demolished in 1965 and replaced with a parking lot. During the early 1990s, the Society did successfully salvage a group of historic ledgers being thrown away by the Shasta County Recorder’s Office. The Society requested they be donated in order to properly preserve, digitize, and index the books for future research. The Society has rehoused a variety of other special collections, which were either donated or loaned for preservation and digitization, into its archive.
The Society has also been involved in numerous popular community and fundraising events. Its annual fundraiser, A Taste of History, was established in 2013 and held at Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Museum. The following year it was moved to the Shasta State Historic Park where it is still held every spring.
The Society launched its first publication, the Year Book, in 1943. Two years later the name of this publication was changed to The Covered Wagon and it is still published today. This annual publication is a collection of local historical writings based on memories by then living people and original historical research. In addition to these books, the Society also published a book written by President Steger called Place Names of Shasta County.
A major project for the organization in 1949 was performing the background research for Rosena A. Giles’ book, Shasta County, California – A History, which was published by Biobooks in Oakland, California. The in 1977, the Society published, Wintu Trails, a book based on the local Wintu tribe of Native Americans and, to a lesser degree, Shasta County. In 1985, the organization, with assistance of Hazel McKim, spearheaded a new publication, A History of Shasta County, California, which was published by the Shasta County Book Commission. This publication is a detailed account of Shasta County’s rich, diverse history and contains detailed local family genealogies. After the donation of the organization’s first computers, by California B. Quint, the Society launched a newsletter called The Stagecoach in January 1989. The newsletter, written for the general membership to enjoy, is filled with Society news and historical articles.
Since the year 2000, the organization and its members have captured Shasta County history in DVDs and books. Titles include The Wright Time, the story of the Pilgrim Congregational Church and how it came to be, Recipe Book for Cooks, a collection of pioneer recipes, and Faces of Shasta County, a collaboration with The Riverfront Playhouse where actors portray prominent women and men in Shasta County history.