Historic Photo of City of Old Shasta, including the Empire Hotel and the Court House. Photo courtesy Gail Jenner Collection.
The word “Shangri-La” can evoke many responses. Mention the word within your circle of friends and you may see the hint of a smile on the face of one, the relaxed countenance of another and, honestly, in the corner there may be a quizzical look on the face of that friend who hasn’t read a book since,“The adventures of Dick and Jane” in the third grade. Shangri-La is a mythical, mystical and harmonious valley somewhere deep in Tibet’s Himalayan Mountain Range. The term, “Shangri-La” conjures up visions of a utopia permanently shielded and isolated from the outside world. It is an ancient term likely derived from the mythical “Shambhala” of Tibetan tradition. Shangri-La / Shambhala was a peaceful retreat, to which Tibetan monks could escape during times of trouble.
Shangri-La / Shambhala probably refers to a state of mind rather than to an actual physical location. It was made famous in western culture by British author James Hilton in his 1933 novel, “Lost Horizon.” The 1937 Frank Capra movie of the same name is based on Hilton’s novel. “Lost Horizon” tells the story of a plane crash in the Himalayas. The survivors are rescued and taken to Shangri-La to recover. The term found its way into pop culture in the 1973 hit song “On the road to Shambala” by Three Dog Night.
While promoting his novel Hilton was interviewed several times. During one such interview Hilton was asked if, in his world travels, he had ever found “Shangri-La” and, if so, where was it. Reportedly Hilton thought for several moments before responding that, for him, Shangri-La was, “A little town in northern California…a little town called Weaverville.” Fasten your seatbelts. Today we will take that ill fated airplane ride Hilton recounted in the “Lost Horizon” as we get On The Road to Shangri-La.
Lost Horizon is not Weaverville’s only flirtation with Hollywood. In 1938 the romantic western “Gold is where you find it” staring Olivia de Havilland was filmed there. The community played host to Hollywood royalty for a ‘full on’ Hollywood premier of the movie complete with a red carpet at the Weaverville Theater. “Gold is Where you find it” was the first western and only the second film produced using the newly introduced“Technicolor” process. Ironically the first was “The Adventures of Robin Hood” also filmed in the state of Jefferson in Chico’s Bidwell Park. But there is so much more to this stunningly beautiful community than the plastic trappings of Hollywood. We will explore some of what Weaverville has to offer over our next few visits.
The region around Weaverville has been continuously inhabited for at least 4,000 years. The local Native Americans are members of the Nor Rel Muk Band of the Wintu nation. The Wintu are known for some of the most intricate, beautiful and functional examples of basketry to be found.
Weaverville sits at the foot of the awe inspiring Trinity Alps Wilderness area. The Trinity Alps encompasses over a half million acres of wilderness, portions of which lie in 3 different counties: Siskiyou, Trinity and Humboldt. There are 520 miles of hiking trails in the Alps, streams too numerous to count and 55 alpine lakes many of which are glacial cirque lakes. The highest alpine lake in the Alps sits on the slopes of Thompson Peak at an elevation of over 9,000 feet. For comparison the top of Lassen Peak is 10,462 feet.
Many only hear about Weaverville during the hot summers when the community is threatened by wild fires. But visitors here can enjoy a truly eclectic mix of curio shops, fine restaurants, taverns, art galleries and live theater productions. Weaverville has a rich history, world class museums, hiking trails, and self guided walks. Mountain bikers will think they have found Shangri-La, while anglers use Weaverville as their base camp as they test the waters of the pristine alpine lakes, streams, rivers, and reservoirs of the region.
In 1849 gold was discovered here and the population boom began. By 1850 Euro-Americans were moving into the region. America has long been called a “melting pot” but the early California Gold rush was a true melting pot of immigrants including European royalty, commoners of varied cultures and nations and refugees from around the world.
During its formative years Weaverville suffered several catastrophic fires. Following a fire in 1854 the city rebuilt with 8 “fireproof” brick buildings with steel fire doors. Many of the gold rush era buildings still stand. Somewhat unique in Weaverville are two external spiral staircases one on each side of Weaverville’s main street (Highway 299w). The spiral staircases offered access to separately owned second stories built over existing structures.
Several historic structures house current businesses. The La Grange Café was once a bank. The infamous stage robber “Black Bart” reportedly robbed the bank in the 1880s. Later, at the turn of the century the Bank of America was housed in the LaGrange building. The safe that originally protected gold from the mines now protects liquid gold. The safe serves as the wine cellar for the restaurant. Self guided walking tours in Weaverville are a fun and educational way to experience this community. Be sure to check out the Trinity County Courthouse. Built in 1856 the building once held a hotel and store. It is the second oldest continuously operating courthouse in California.
Weaverville is a step back in time with the amenities of modern life. The residents are friendly and deservedly proud of their community. They will happily share the rich history and heritage of Weaverville with visitors.
To discover Weaverville head west out of Redding on Highway 299 w. A one hour’s drive will put you squarely in Shangri-La.
On our next visit to Weaverville we will look at the various cultures in Weaverville’s history and how they interacted when we get back On The Road to Shangri-La. ♦