I lived in one of the original mining cabins in Redding during the spring of 1976. At one time it was the only home in what is now a busy, populated neighborhood. The cabin started as one room built on a foundation of large wooden logs. The kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, added later, had concrete foundations, and the house was covered with greenish shingles so it looked more like a cottage than a cabin at the time I lived in it.
The whole place was kind of creepy. I lived there only because the rent was only $85. I was a single mother with a two-year-old son. One corner of the living room had come off the wooden foundation and sloped downward. The bedroom was painted dark blue. The living room rug was almost black with purplish starbursts on it. Only the yard was pleasant. It was full of well-established flowers with climbing vines over every fence surrounding the cabin.
One night near the end of March, at about 1:30am, I was disturbed by the loud groaning of what sounded like a man just outside my kitchen window. I was up late, working on an English 1B paper due at college the next day.
Startled, I ran to lock the windows, pull the shades, close the curtains, and lock the doors, then went into the living room because all my kitchen windows were not well-covered and I didn’t want someone looking in at me. My two-year-old son slept on one of the sofas there, and we had no phone, so I couldn’t call for help. I couldn’t do anything but pray.
This cottage was set back from the road at the end of a driveway, with tall walls covered with dense, lush foliage on three sides, and in front, an old white picket fence covered with red climbing roses, with one squeaky gate for entry. Because of this seclusion, I didn’t feel a need for the privacy of curtains or shades, until this frightening experience.
After waiting a long time – maybe fifteen minutes or half an hour, I ventured back into the kitchen and sat down at the table to type because that paper was still due in my English class in the morning. I figured that if someone was going to attack, he would have done so already. I questioned what I’d heard. It didn’t make sense that anyone was outside my window.
I typed for about five minutes, when suddenly I heard the scary groaning sound again. I rushed back to the living room and started praying again. This time I didn’t stop praying for a long time – until finally I fell asleep.
I awoke early the next morning and checked around the outside of the cottage. Nobody was there and there was no sign of disturbance in the yard. I tried to tell myself it was only a dog, but there were no dogs nearby either. I finished my English paper and got my son ready to go to preschool. As we left, around 7:30am, my landlord and landlady met me at their back gate, which was close to my front gate as my cottage sat back that far from the road – which is named Shasta Street.
“Did you hear about the explosion?” They asked.
“No, what explosion?” I was a poor college student and had no television or radio.
“The Nova Plywood factory between here and Anderson burned up in the middle of the night,” my landlord said. “A lot of men were killed.”
It occurred to me that the groaning I’d heard at about that time could have been related to the deaths of these men, but I’ve never figured out exactly how that could be. Perhaps some kind of clairaudient perception picked up the groaning of men in distress, far away.
At one time I wondered if one of the men had once lived in that cottage, but I never found any proof of that.
A few days later I sat on the sofa praying when what looked like a whisper of a ghost walked through my living room – a short man with a plaid work shirt and a baseball cap. “So that’s what its all about,” he said as he passed in front of me. He continued on through the eastern wall of the old cabin, and was gone.
You Can See the Mountains from Redding, CA
Every weekday morning I’d drive north on the highway to Shasta College, during the four years I lived in Redding, the county seat of Shasta County. Every morning I was awed by the beauty of Mt. Shasta, which is basically white, with gray and orange-sherbet shadows on the snow. That’s how it looked to me, from a distance.
To the east I could see the gray mountains of Lassen State Volcanic Park, and to the west, out of view, the Trinity Alps divided this northern corner of the great Central Valley from the Pacific Coast.
Because of the heat, the central, downtown section of the city is completely covered by an air-conditioned mall. It is a pleasant shopping area with attractive fountains, restaurants and stores. A good place for old men to socialize and for a young college student taking her son for a walk in his stroller.
Ono and Igo – Two Small Towns in Shasta County
South of Redding, about ten miles west of highway 99, there’s a tiny town called Igo. About five miles further west is the even tinier town of Ono. The story I was told about the naming of these towns started with a group of Chinese miners living in the area of Igo. They lived there several years before white settlers came and demanded to take over the town.
The humble and timid Chinese people succumbed to the harassment and left their homes, saying, “I go. I go.” Thus, the town is now called Igo.
They moved to an area five miles further west where they build new homes and cultivated the fields. Once again, the white settlers followed and demanded to take over the land. This time the Chinese settlers stood up for their rights and protested, saying, “Oh no! Oh no!”
To this day this and other (possibly fictional) stories are told about the tiny communities of Igo and Ono.
Here’s an article about the Igo Inn … with photos.
I came across this story when I visited a young couple living in Igo. I had never been there before and haven’t been back since. The living room was dark, and the man had his feet up on his coffee table as he lounged comfortably on the sofa, telling me this bit of Igo-Ono lore.
The two villages are nestled in oak-covered rolling hills. It is peaceful and remote. A good place for people who want to get away from it all, without being so far away it would be hard to return.
The Building of Shasta Dam
Back in Redding, the county-seat of Shasta County, miners were eventually replaced by the men who built Shasta Dam from 1938 to 1944. The groundbreaking and naming ceremony for the dam took place on September 12, 1937 in the small town of Kennett – a town that was covered by the waters of Lake Shasta as the dam began to fill a few years later.
The little blue house is the one I lived in.
When I was there it was green.
It looks much better now.
The little green mining cabin was down a long
driveway behind the beige house next door.
It has been torn down.
When I lived there, the apartments on the corner lot
weren’t there. It was an empty lot.
I heard a church had been there, but it burned.
There are a lot of old cabins in Redding, and in Shasta Lake (a small town near the dam) that were originally built to house the dam workers. After I moved out of the little green cottage I mentioned above, I moved two doors down the street to an old house originally built for dam construction laborers. In the years since I was there, it has been remodeled, painted, and landscaped, and it looks quite nice now. The history remains the same.
Shasta Dam holds back the Sacramento River, upriver from Redding. It is the 9th-tallest dam in the USA, and it created the largest artificial lake in California.
If the dam were ever to burst, all of Redding would be swept away by the flood, which would probably cover the North Central Valley all the way to Sacramento. However, that’s not likely to happen as this is a very thick and well-built dam.
I toured it in the 1970’s with my first son, and went back to tour it with two of my younger children in 1999. There’s a nice interpretive center, museum, and theater built on the hillside next to the dam.
The tour takes people into an elevator that quickly descends from the top to the bottom of the dam where there’s a hydro-electric plant to look at. I was told that the elevator’s unique sound was recorded for the Star Trek series back in the sixties. Perhaps that’s what we hear when the Enterprise’s doors are opened or closed.
Before the dam was built, back in the 1930’s, the Sacramento River flooded Redding every year. I learned this from a friend who arrived in Redding at that time – her name was Edna Neff. Her husband, Harvey Neff, moved to Shasta County to work on Shasta Dam.
Remember that story I told (at the top of this page) when the Nova Plywood factory exploded and burned? Harvey had retired from that factory about a year before the fire, and used to go back there every day to chat with his friends at shift changes. Well, some of his best friends perished in the fire. Harvey never recovered from the shock and trauma of losing his friends and his social life. He became alcoholic and his wife divorced him.
My most vivid memory of him was when he was drunk, trying to tell me his memories. I couldn’t understand a word of it. Harvey Neff (1904-1983), the dam construction worker, is buried in Lawncrest Memorial Park in Redding.
Harvey’s wife, Edna, was a close friend of mine though she was in her sixties and I was in my twenties at the time. I visited her frequently. She moved from their double-wide trailer home in the Shady Oaks Mobile Home Park, space 6, to the old Hotel Lorenz in downtown Redding.
The Lorenz Hotel was still primitive then, but now has been renovated and has become a beautiful senior housing project. Edna’s room was very small featuring nothing but a old metal bed frame with metal springs, a mattress, and a radiator. Later Harvey moved to the Lorenz and Edna was able to move back to her mobile home. I last visited her in 1979.
West of Redding there’s another dam (much smaller than Shasta Dam) which turned a small stream into Whiskeytown Lake. It was dedicated by President Kennedy about 7 weeks before he was assassinated. This video tells the story.
Whiskeytown Dam and the lake were named after a town, most of which now lies under the waters of this beatuful lake. All that’s left is the Whiskeytown General Store.
I have gone swimming in the arm of the lake that’s in front of this old general store…. but that was a long time ago – in the 1970’s. Now there’s a much better place to swim – the Brandy Creek Swim Beach on the other side of the lake.
Just beyond the lake is the town of French Gulch, a place settled by French miners and now, a quaint and friendly community nestled in the hollow space between two tall mountains. I had a friend there. She was an upscale lady working for the school system. I was surprised when I visited her home – which consisted of two old travel trailers with a living room built between them. It was small, cozy, well-decorated and comfortable. She seemed entirely happy living there with her husband and two young children.
At Shasta Community College (my alma mater, well, one of them) one year I took a class to study plants native to the region. While on an expedition to explore and observe indigenous flora, the instructor took us to a site just uphill from Whiskeytown Lake where a hermit had lived for years.
The remains and evidence of his tenancy consisted of a big pile of old jars and bottles, a separate big pile of rusting tin cans, and various other items of junk discarded haphazardly around the area. I wondered how he survived without a roof over his head, but it seemed he’d been there a long time. Maybe his cabin had been dismantled by the authorities before I arrived there, but then, why would they leave the garbage?
The first short story I ever wrote was about this hermit.
When we drove from Redding’s Eureka Way, west toward Whiskeytown Lake, back in the 1970’s, we passed ruins of a town we called Old Shasta. These were the foundations and remnants of a pioneer settlement. I don’t remember stopping to explore them. Years later, this place was turned into a California State Historic Park.
The Shasta State Historic Park nearly closed in 2012 but was saved by the Shasta Historical Society. I love looking at the ruins, but the old courthouse spooked me. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was haunted.
A poem about the baby, set to music,
by John Malcolm Penn.
His blog is Landmark Adventures.
Less than a mile west of Old Shasta there’s a historic marker for a “Pioneer Baby’s Grave.” I stopped to look at it. I walked down an incline and saw this “Jewish Cemetery” has only one grave. The parents of infant Charles Brownstein lived in Red Bluff. When their baby died on December 14, 1864, they wanted him buried in a Jewish cemetery. George and Helena Cohn Brownstein traveled all the way from Red Bluff to Old Shasta, about forty miles, to inter their son in the right place.
Let’s Talk About the Weather
Shasta County is a fascinating place for anyone who studies California history, like I do. Unfortunately, the winter weather almost did me in. Every year I had bouts with bronchitis and prolonged periods of laryngitis, which I’ve never been bothered with since I moved away from there.
There wasn’t much snow in Redding during the 1970’s – just three to six inches once or twice each winter. It was very cold anyhow because the storms in Northern California are gifts from the Arctic north.
Summers are ridiculously hot. The hot air from the Central Valley seems to travel north and collect at the top of the valley, where Redding is.
Shasta College is on the Old Oregon Trail five miles outside of Redding. The campus is pretty enough. I was hired to be the secretary of the student senate – a job for which I was paid sixty dollars monthly. I typed agendas and minutes, and attended the meetings, but was not an elected member of the student senate. My spelling was atrocious but they loved me anyway, because I attended meetings and got the work done. And I learned to spell better as time went by.
I graduated from Shasta College in 1977 with an associates degree in Early Childhood Education. Rather than donning a cap and gown (which I couldn’t afford) I chose to be an usher at the graduation ceremony. None of my relatives attended because they didn’t live nearby and I didn’t invite anyone. Years later my father told me he never even knew I graduated.
Afterwards I sold much of what I owned at a yard sale, then moved south to Modesto to continue my education at Stanislaus State College in the center of the great Central Valley.
Also see: Exploring Shasta County History Blog