By Michael Raffety
I had occasion to drive to Klamath Falls, Ore., to conduct some personal business. I had to leave Placerville fairly early to make sure I arrived during banking hours. But the return trip was less hurried, even though Saturday traffic was heavier. For several years I had kept a yellowed clipping about the “ghost town” of Shasta three miles west of Redding.
The June 12, 2011, clipping from the Sunday Bee said Shasta was founded on gold and was the “Queen City’” of the northern mines in the Klamath Range. It was the county seat until 1872 when the Central Pacific bypassed the town and routed the rails through Redding instead. Redding officially became the county seat in 1888.
Shasta features a lot of brick buildings that are in a state of arrested decay, with walls propped up by steel braces. Many were originally two- and three-story buildings, but now only the first story remains.
The 1861 courthouse is a real treat. It is in excellent shape and features original furnishings, law books and a couple of large property tax ledgers. Twin gas lamps light the judge’s bench. The attorneys’ benches are curved, as are the seats for the audience.
The furnishings, complete with a 38-star flag, were saved by county employee George Albro. Albro began working at the Shasta Jail when he was 13. The jail is downstairs in the courthouse. That is how the El Dorado County Courthouse used to be, with the jail downstairs. When former Sheriff Dick Pacileo first began working for the Sheriff’s Department he worked in the jail downstairs.
The Placerville Police Department used to be downstairs when City Hall was on Main Street next to the courthouse. They would look out the window and watch who was coming out of the bars.
When the new courthouse opened in Redding, Albro stored all the Shasta courthouse decorations and furnishings in the attic of the new courthouse. When it was decided to restore the old courthouse in Shasta in the 1950, George Albro was the consultant, though he had already retired. Albro had been a county employee for 75 years.
In the old Shasta courthouse is a roll-top desk that was used by William Bickford who was county auditor-clerk-recorder from 1872-1878.
The room that was identified as the Clerk-Auditor is now an art gallery featuring 98 California paintings collected by former Shasta resident Mae Helene Bacon Boggs. The collection includes some impressive landscapes painted about 1912 by Thaddeus Welch. I had not heard of Welch before, but now I do. The collection includes several paintings by famous Western artist Maynard Dixon. I did a paper on Maynard Dixon for a graduate level photography class. These paintings were simpler, but his more complex western paintings had a clear photographic foundation to them.
Seeing the sign for the Clerk-Auditor reminded me when I reported on the Amador County Board of Supervisors before I came to work at the Mountain Democrat in 1978. At that time the Clerk-Auditor made the agenda and kept the minutes for the Board of Supervisors. He also did the county budget. He showed me how to read a budget and find the highlights.
I’m not sure why Amador County later thought it needed a county administrator. The auditor put together a real clear budget.
The last time El Dorado County had an administrator who didn’t rely on someone else to put together a budget was the 1980s. CAO Kent Taylor would visit all the department heads and elected officials as he began building his budget. Somewhat like the Amador County clerk-auditor, Taylor’s budget was a one-man operation.
Besides the courthouse three buildings have survived – a bakery, which is now a sandwich shop, the Litsch Store and the Leo Store. Since my new grandson’s name is Leo, we went to the Leo Store first. The Litsch Store is a general store chock full of original stock, including locally made whiskey bottles and zinfandel wine bottles so old you wouldn’t dare taste them.
The other building in excellent shape is the oldest chartered Masonic Hall in California, Western Star Lodge No. 2, chartered on May 10, 1848.
The town of Shasta is a state park, largely as a result of art collector Ms. Boggs buying land and buildings in the 1920s. Groups helping the restoration movement were the Native Sons of the Golden West and the Shasta Historical Society. The State Parks Commission bought additional properties in 1937. The state was going to close Shasta State Historical Park July 1, 2012. The Shasta Historical Society raised enough money to keep it open three days a week. Apparently Saturday is one of those days.