Mythbusting: The Hall of Records in Redding, California

Recently, I heard someone repeat a recurring falsehood about local history that has been going around for at least 15 years. The claim is that Robert L. Reading, a son of early white settler Pierson B. Reading, was the architect of the Shasta County Hall of Records building that stood next to the county courthouse in Redding for nearly a century.

The Hall of Records (left) and Shasta County Courthouse in Redding.

I’m not sure with whom the falsehood started (though I have my suspicions), but I have a pretty good idea how it started. It’s another great reminder to always evaluate your sources with a critical eye, do thorough research, and go back to primary sources.

Notice of Removal of County Seat, published in the Shasta Courier on April 21, 1888.

Redding finally became the county seat on May 19, 1888 following a number of elections and a court battle that made its way all the way to the California Supreme Court.

According to the June 9, 1888 issue of the (Redding) Republican Free Press, the Board of Supervisors wasted no time in calling for an election to be held the following month on the question of issuing bonds to fund the construction of a new courthouse for the new county seat. Voters approved the bonds, and by May of the following year, painters were putting the final touches on the new courthouse.

A very early view of the Shasta County Courthouse in Redding, prior to the construction of the Hall of Records.

The supervisors were interested in building a fireproof hall of records no later than 1899, but those early attempts seem to have fallen through. On January 15, 1906, the Sacramento Union reported the Shasta County Board of Supervisors had ordered the county surveyor (who was Robert L. Reading at the time) to prepare plans and specifications for a hall of records. It’s likely that the errant historian came across an article from this time and considered the matter settled.

Chico Record, December 11, 1906.

However, further research reveals an article in the December 11, 1906 issue of the Chico Record reporting that the Shasta County Grand Jury summoned a county supervisor to explain why nothing had been done in regards to constructing a hall of records. The supervisor claimed that it was due to the changing conditions brought on by the catastrophic fire in San Francisco following the earthquake in April of that year. Why San Francisco’s misfortune did not hasten the fireproof hall’s construction rather than delay it is not made clear.

Matthew W. Herron’s plans for the Hall of Records were accepted by the Shasta County Board of Supervisors on January 11, 1908, according to this article in the January 12, 1908 (Redding) Searchlight.

A little over a year later, the (Redding) Searchlight reported that plans had been accepted by the Board of Supervisors from Matthew W. Herron for a Hall of Records, expected to cost $40,000 (January 12, 1908).

Local history or architecture buffs may recognize Matthew W. Herron as a prominent local architect who designed Redding City Hall (now known as Old City Hall) and the (demolished) Carnegie Library, among other local buildings.

Shasta County Hall of Records, date unknown.
Redding City Hall, circa 1915, also designed by Matthew W. Herron. Note the similarities, particularly near the roofline.

Bids were solicited, and the construction contract for the building was awarded to Roberts Bros. & Co. of Oakland for $46,995 (Courier Free-Press, July 15, 1908). Grading at the site began the following month (Courier Free-Press, August 12, 1908). Work proceeded quickly, and on March 16, 1909, the (Redding) Searchlight reported the Hall of Records stands completed and “there was no attempt at anytime to vary the plans of the architect, M.W. Herron.”

As reported in the (Redding) Searchlight of March 16, 1909.

The Hall of Records originally showcased its red clay brick construction, but was covered with a cement render (using cement obtained from Weed) the following year to eliminate seasonal stain and “preserve the imposing appearance of the county building” (Sacramento Union, September 14, 1910). The Board of Supervisors found the appearance so agreeable, they ordered the courthouse to receive the same treatment (Ibid).

The Sacramento Union went on to note “the effect of treating the buildings with the Weed cement is to give them the appearance of marble structures, and it is expected that the lasting qualities of the cement will prove equal to the appearance” (Ibid). Unfortunately, cement renders often result in the opposite effect, as the cement interferes with the contraction and expansion of red clay brick and lime mortar during shifts in the weather, and the brick often destroys itself in the process.

The original courthouse was demolished in 1963, after the completion of the current courthouse, to make room for an annex (Redding Record-Searchlight, March 5, 1963).

The Hall of Records stood in the courthouse square in Redding until 1998, when it was demolished due to its unsafe condition despite attempts to save it—a story all too common in Shasta County history (Redding Record-Searchlight, February 20, 1998).

“Furthermore, the roof leaks extensively, which contributes to the progressive failure of the building’s masonry and plaster, while its structural components are also seriously deteriorated.

The mechanical and electrical systems are unusable and all interior finishes and furnishings have been destroyed by water and 90 years of service, Lyman wrote.”

“County Wants Building Razed,” Redding Record-Searchlight, October 4, 1997.

Sadly, in all of the many newspaper articles reporting its poor state of repair, none of the reporters seemed interested in finding out how the county building got into such a condition—or, more pointedly, why the building was not properly maintained by the county and who was responsible for the lack of oversight. That, too, is a story all too common in Shasta County history; but perhaps one for another time.

[Note: This post was edited on August 27, 2019 to correct a misspelling.]


Maybe Not the Best Venue

Weekly Shasta Courier, January 19, 1856.

Another Untold Tale of Shasta County History

As we transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, I thought it would be a good time to share a story of solidarity from Shasta County history that you won’t read anywhere else.

Jane Olney

Jane Olney was one of Redding’s pioneering business women. After her husband, Albert, died on March 4, 1901, she inherited his assets, including a saloon and the building it occupied on California Street. A little over a year later, a massive fire erupted on the block, destroying the Paragon Hotel, her saloon, and a number of other buildings1. Mrs. Olney’s loss was estimated at $1,200 and she was only partially insured2.

The brick Olney Building in the 1930s or 1940s

Nevertheless she was able to rebuild bigger and better, hiring Holt & Gregg to build a two-story pressed-brick building designed by Charles H. Barrett, architect of the Lorenz Hotel, for $5,0003.

In the coming years, Olney parlayed her business successes into a small theater empire. Her first theater appears to have been The Majestic, in which she was initially a silent partner or acquired between June 1909 and February 1910. In February of 1910, she also acquired a half-interest in the Dreamland theater. That May, she got out of the saloon business, selling the operation but apparently retaining the building.

At some point during the 1910s, Olney also operated the Victory Theater, which was operating in 1914. Olney also eventually bought the other half-interest in the Dreamland at some point and operated it until June 1918, when she sold it to J.R. Bauer 4

The tale of solidarity comes from a 1915 article in an African-American newspaper called the Western Outlook. At this time before “talkies,” it was common for theaters to have live music to accompany vaudeville and silent film. The Dreamland had a boys’ band that played out front three times a week and may have accompanied the shows as well. The visiting writer for Western Outlook was pleasantly surprised to see a 12-year-old African-American boy, Adolph Norman, playing trombone with the band and asked about it. The reporter writes:

“On inquiry, we learned that some of the boys objected at first, but the lady who owns the theater promptly informed them that Adolph was going to play [even] if he played alone, so they could suit themselves about playing. This was about a year ago, and they are all playing yet. He is a sight reader, a natural musician and the best in the bunch.”

Western Outlook,October 16, 1915.
Adolph Norman and the Dreamland Boys Band, circa 1914.

This History Matters

It’s no secret I have become highly critical of the Shasta Historical Society’s board of directors and their recent decisions. Decisions that have resulted in the loss of highly trained and capable professional staff, waste of financial resources, ongoing neglect of their irreplaceable collection, and alienation of community members. Since last summer, I’ve come to expect little from the organization, but I must admit, even I was shocked by a recent Facebook post by the Shasta Historical Society.

The society runs a “Today in History” feature on Facebook, something that many historical societies do in one form or another. For the Shasta Historical Society, it’s usually just something found in an old newspaper, devoid of any context or interpretation. It’s easy to understand why they do it; it’s a pretty easy way to generate content. It’s not great history, but usually harmless enough.

But the historical society crossed a line with its post of January 25, 2019, seen in part here:

Part of Facebook post by the Shasta Historical Society from January 25, 2019.

The text is a weird hybrid—some of it is obviously lifted verbatim from an uncited source—note the outdated construction of “and etc.” The anonymous author of the post made a token attempt at political correctness by including the phrase “Native American,” which was not in common use at the time (if at all); however, the post author then uncritically repeated the source’s breathless declaration that all of the “non-Native Americans” were “murdered.”

The original source is probably the Shasta Republican, a newspaper published in Shasta, California from 18551 to 18612. The account was republished in the Daily Alta California the following month:

Presumably the original source for this report, as reprinted in the Daily Alta California in February 17, 1857.

The problem with omitting context and/or interpretation from “Today in History” content is, intentionally or not, you often end up misleading people. The “account” is actually a letter to the editor of the Shasta Republican by one A.M. [Alexander ] Rosborough. Who was Alexander Rosborough? We’ll circle back to that shortly. For now, let’s examine the claim itself.

The phrase “all the inhabitants in Pitt River Valley” sounds considerable and the attack devestating. How many people come to mind? Dozens? Hundreds? The actual number of victims? Five.

The victims of the attack, as listed in the letter, were: H.A. Lockhart, A. Boles, Z. Rogers, Daniel Bryant, and “a German.” Who were these men? Did this attack happen out of the blue or was it part of a larger story? The historical society doesn’t tell you, so I will.

Notice published in the December 23, 1854 Shasta Courier, indicating a business relationship between H.A. Lockhart and A.M. Rosborough.

Alexander M. Rosborough was an attorney and eventual Indian Agent residing in Yreka. Along with H.A. Lockhart and others, he was a founding member of a joint stock company to form a toll road between Red Bluff and Yreka via the Pit River Valley. As a resident of Yreka, he also no doubt knew H.A. [Harry] Lockhart’s brother, Samuel, a saloonkeeper there. One of the most important things historians should do is evaluate their sources. How biased is it? Is there an agenda? Who benefits? Is this a firsthand account? In this case, Rosborough could hardly be considered an impartial source, because he had a clear incentive to overstate the devastation of the event while understating mitigating circumstances.

In June of 1856, the road between Red Bluff and Yreka finally opened, and the Yreka Chronicle reported “at and near [Harry] Lockhart’s Ferry, on Pitt river, several farms are being opened, and a sawmill building, and things will soon present the appearance of a thriving settlement at that place.” 3 The developing settlement served as the only overnight stopping point on the 180-mile road, and Harry Lockhart no doubt turned a tidy profit from the arrangement, which could continue so long as travelers could safely pass along the route and stay at the new settlement.4

The Lockhart Brothers treated Native Americans as subhuman or condoned such treatment of Native Americans by their employees. According to one account, Harry sent two Indian youths in search of two lost horses. When the pair failed to find the steeds, Lockhart “‘shot them both.'” 5. Another account reported two of Lockhart’s workers killed two Indian men, who in the past had often helped the white settlers by giving them wild game. The workers then abducted the deceased men’s wives 6.

According to a report published by the Shasta Republican, one of the Lockharts bragged of poisoning Indians while living in the Pit River Valley. The Republican dryly opined, “Since hearing of the above conduct, we have lost our wonder at the untimely fate of the settlers of Pit River Valley” 7. Sources at the time applied greater scrutiny to accounts of the event than the Shasta Historical Society.

The historical society also neglects to discuss the toll of the “war” that broke out following the attack on Lockhart’s Ferry which Rorsborough’s letter no doubt help instigate. A more accurate term than war would be “massacres” or “ongoing genocide.” That spring, a group of approximately 25 or so volunteers rode out to mete their version of “justice” for the deaths at Lockhart’s Ferry.

An Achumawi woman, photographed circa the 1920s.

“Between about April 1 and April 18, they attacked the Achumawi three times, killing some twenty people including at least ‘two or three women and one child.'”8 By the time the expedition was finished, the company reported it had killed 59 Indians and abducted thirteen children. 9 They were later paid $5,000 by the State of California for their “services.” 10

A wise person once said, “History without interpretation is trivia.” Trivializing genocide is inexcusable. So is trivializing ethnic cleansing, and yet, as I was editing this post for publication, the Shasta Historical Society did just that.

The Shasta Historical Society’s “Today in History” post for February 5, 2019.

There is a term for this kind of writing—tergiversation.

Redding’s Chinatown was described as “vacated.” That’s an odd word choice considering the circumstances that lead to the mass exodus of its inhabitants. Why was Chinatown vacated? Was it by choice? If it was not by choice, why did it come to pass?

Excerpt of an article from the January 23, 1886 issue of the Redding Free Press.

Redding’s Chinese community was forced to leave town by Redding’s “‘best citizens,'” in the words of the Redding Free Press. At a meeting on the evening of Friday, January 22, 1886, the long-simmering anti-Chinese sentiment boiled over (again). The meeting was called to order by County Supervisor Frank C. Tiffin. Other prominent participants included Frank M. Swasey, James F. Scamman, Jerry Culverhouse, Samuel J.R. Gilbert, Chauncey C. Bush, and Franklin Primm.11 It was unanimously decided the Chinese must leave, and quickly, too. The Chinese were notified by the self-styled “Committee of Forty” Saturday afternoon that they if they left by 9:30 the next morning, “they would not be harmed or defrauded in any way.”12 Five men were allowed to settle “business affairs,” and Committee of Forty was even generous enough to allow the Chinese cooks and house servants “one week to stay to enable their employers to procure white help.”13

Less than two week after the expulsion of the Chinese, in the wee morning hours of Friday, February 5, 1886, a fire leveled the buildings of Redding’s Chinatown. The Redding Free Press, a strongly anti-Chinese paper, gamely reported the cause of the fire was “unknown; [but] it is thought by some that the Chinese returned and set them afire, while others believe it was done by tramps.”14 (Apparently blaming the homeless is a longstanding Redding tradition.)

Redding actively expelled anyone of Chinese descent for the next three decades. By 1915, Redding, Eureka, and Truckee were the “only places in the state now prohibiting them by an established rule.”15 The community finally relented in 1917.

As I noted above, when you omit context and/or interpretation, you frequently end up misleading people. When the practice becomes habitual, it becomes a problem. Again, historians are trained to evaluate their sources. So let’s evaluate the Shasta Historical Society as a source.

According to their website, the Shasta Historical Society’s Board of Directors currently numbers 13 individuals—a prodigious number for such a small organization by any standard. Who comprises this board? It is currently composed of 11 men and 2 women. (Women comprise 50.9% of Shasta County’s general population.) A conservative estimate would put the board’s median age in the 70s. The racial composition of the board is entirely white, in contrast to Shasta County’s population. (According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 12% of our county identifies as other than white, non-Latino.) To the best of our recollection, there has never been a director of Chinese, African-American, or Native American descent on the board, despite all of these populations having been significant to our history.

What does this suggest as the reason for such lackadaisical posts? Museums are rated as more trustworthy than newspapers 16. What are the consequences of consistent misleading statements by the Shasta Historical Society on our community’s shameful past? You tell me.

The members of the Shasta Historical Society deserve better. The community deserves better.


An Early Shasta Christmas

A few years ago, I was reading a transcription of the diary of Royal Tyler Sprague (an Old Shasta pioneer and Freemason), and I thought his entries on Christmas 1850 in Shasta were worth noting:

Dec 24, 1850: “This evening nearly every citizen of our little town seems determined on a general blow out, more than one half are partially intoxicated. Fiddling, dancing, fighting, & yelling. All must drink and none can sleep.”

Dec. 25, 1850: “The carousing of our citizens continued all night. I managed to get about 2 hours sleep. This morning immediately after breakfast I set out with Hawkins, Lemon, and Ray to walk to Roop’s trading post 9 miles from here on Clear Creek [now underwater near Oak Bottom Marina] where we arrived a little after noon and partook of a most sumptuous dinner, after which some fourteen of us went out onto the bottom and took a game of goal. I have not run as much for 15 years. Spent the evening until a late hour in playing cards drinking cider & eating mince pies & cheese. Thus passed Christmas with me this year, quite different from last. Warmer weather than any Christmas I ever before witnessed.”

Dec. 26, 1850: “Immediately after breakfast we paid our bills (mine was $11.00) and set out for home where we arrived late in the P.M. Weather still warm and pleasant.”