Historic Resource Study
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A. Population and Transportation

After 1880 the population in the Whiskeytown area declined markedly, reflecting the exhaustion of surface gold which had, for three decades, buoyed the fragile mining communities. The fast train transportation to northern California, Oregon, and points north, by way of the Sacramento Valley, bypassed the area, also discouraging those individuals who may have settled around Whiskeytown for commercial reasons. Other than relatively small quartz and copper mining operations, the economy of the area slowed to a near standstill. [1]

During the late nineteenth century the economic focus of the area west of Shasta was in the French Gulch quartz mining district, just northwest of the present recreation area boundary, and after 1895, in the copper-zinc belt to the east of today's park boundary. Mostly local and some tourist traffic traveled over the hilly dirt road past Whiskeytown, the majority of which had been constructed in the early 1860s by Charles Camden. On the eve of the twentieth century the Camden toll road, once a well-received improvement in the area, had become "a curse to the people of Shasta County." [2]

Even though Shasta County took over the Camden toll road in 1912, the road supervisors did not allocate adequate funds for its maintenance. Despite the fact that M. E. Dittmar reported in 1913-14 that "a good wagon road connects French Gulch with Redding. . . . The haul is about twenty-one miles over an easy grade," Mrs. Elta Proebstel, the school teacher in Whiskeytown during those years, recalled that no one came to (or left) the town because the all-dirt road was so bad. The one-lane avenue made passing a dangerous and time-consuming task, as the driver had to know where the road was sufficiently wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass at the same time. Moreover, the few cars and the wagons and stages often got stuck in the deep mud ruts when it rained or snowed, and cars always required chains during the winter. The county reflected its awareness of the inadequate road when it announced to the public in 1919 that it would do everything possible to keep the road open during the winter, only underscoring the hazards met by travelers during harsh weather. [3]

Finally, early in the 1920s, the state constructed Highway 20 which followed the Camden toll road or county road fairly closely. The existing highway (U.S. 299), however, represents yet later road construction in the 1950s and early 1960s. The latter work consisted of the construction of approximately five miles of new highway—2.5 miles east of Tower House to 2.5 miles east of Whiskeytown—including a new bridge over Whiskey Creek, to accommodate the forthcoming Whiskeytown Reservoir waters. [4]

B. Recreation

Beginning in the late 1930s Shasta County began to work with state and federal agencies to develop recreational facilities in the picturesque mountainous terrain no longer popular for its rich minerals. Just before World War II the Bureau of Reclamation began construction of the Shasta Dam; in 1955 the Trinity Dam; and in 1959 the Whiskeytown Dam. In May 1962 the first waters and first boaters entered Whiskeytown Lake, and on September 28, 1963, President John F. Kennedy presided over dedication ceremonies at the dam. Under a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service took over the management of the area in 1965. [5]

The purchase of 36,056 acres of land for the park caused further decline in the permanent population of the area, leaving only a few inholdings and a handful of park employee families as residents. The few Whiskeytown homeowners moved away, mostly reluctantly, after which time their houses were destroyed. The town cemetery with some eighty graves, and the schoolhouse, survived the demolition. The cemetery is now relocated within the park boundaries, to the east of the road to Igo, while the schoolhouse now serves as a church in Shasta. [6]

But the area welcomes more people today than at any time in its history, providing a water-based recreation area to thousands of annual visitors. Although many of the historic resources which concentrated around Whiskeytown have been demolished, the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area preserves the existing historic features without perpetuating further abuses to the land from mining and lumbering.

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Last Updated: 11-Dec-2009