Driving the circuitous mountain pass from Redding, the poppies painting ginger swaths across the hills and the brilliant redbud trees blooming among the firs and madrones never fail to astonish the eye. The sparkling Trinity River runs high with spring run-off, and when I finally arrive in Weaverville, the warm spell has not yet melted the snow-capped peaks that draw one’s gaze to the heights encircling the town.
Main Street hasn’t changed a heck of a lot in the last 100 years—still not a single stop light in the town, not to mention in the whole county! With a little imagination, it’s easy to conjure up horse-drawn wagons rumbling past the old courthouse and corseted women on the covered walkways. The old-fashioned Main Street hosts a festive 4th of July parade, followed by an ice cream social, a melodrama performance, rodeo, and fireworks, and in the autumn it’s festooned with dozens of contemporary and vintage quilts.
Since it was Friday, I knew we should head to Weaverville’s venerable institution, Happy Hour at Le Grange Cafe. The restaurant was already jammed, mostly locals who herald the week-end with camaraderie, drinks and appetizers—the latter plentiful and gratis. This Friday it was twice-baked potato skins with all the fixings and toppings that I liberally help myself to. My sister Anne, who lives in town, introduces me to friends from church; another, the director of the Trinity Alps Performing Arts Center; a third is a gal from her garden club. By the time we leave an hour later, I feel I’ve known them just about forever; it’s that kind of place.
Historic Weaverville, the county seat with a population of about 3,600, is nestled at the base of the Trinity Alps, a vast wilderness with endless hiking trails, dozens of lakes and the state’s second largest reservoir. With only 14,000 inhabitants, the county encompasses approximately 3,200 square miles. Though roughly only the size of Vermont, if flattened it would amazingly cover an area about the size of Texas!
In the mid-1800s, as elsewhere in California, gold was discovered and Weaverville sprung up overnight. To grasp the area’s history, I stopped in at the J.J. “Jake” Jackson Memorial Museum & History Park, and began with the exhibit of the native Wintu Indian’s artifacts and baskets—household implements, clothing of the Chinese immigrants, guns, tools, and an array of photos of the miners and farmers. Over 800 textiles ranging from garments, quilts, fraternal banners, and wedding dress are displayed on rotation.
From further down the wooden walk, loud clanging emanates from the Blacksmith Shop where several men hammer away on anvils. In the interior, radiating warmth from the forge on this cool morning, is a reproduction of a shop circa 1905. In addition to blacksmithing demonstrations, classes are taught here and at an annual “Hammer-In” smithies gather for workshops by the world’s greatest blacksmiths.I step outside to the park where the Paymaster Stamp Mill stands, the only fully operational, steam-operated gold quartz mill using restored original equipment. On a previous visit I lucked out and got to experience the noisy mill crushing and processing rock, which it does on holiday weekends and for tour groups.