Thursday, May 19, 2005

Town buried under Shasta Lake remembered


"Shasta Lake," writes Chico resident Jane B. Schuldberg, "is made up of the flooded river valleys of three major Northern California rivers and their tributaries: the Pit, the McCloud, and the Sacramento. ... The flooding was caused ... by the building of the Shasta Dam. Hundreds of feet below the surface of the lake is a graveyard of ghost towns. There lie the remains of the old mining towns of Ydalpom (Copper City), Delamar, Winthrop ... and largest of all, Kennett."

When Schuldberg visited Shasta Dam's visitor center in 1989 she saw pictures of old Kennett. "Shocked by this brief look, memories came rushing back to me of tales my mother told when I was a child. My mother, Rubie (Radzinski) Blumenthal, had spent her teenage years in Kennett living with her great aunt and uncle, Rosa and Bernhard Golinsky, after her parents died." Schuldberg realized that the "Wild West" stories she heard growing up were from a real place, submerged under some 400 feet of water in 1944 with the completion of the dam. She set out to recover what she could of that past, combing through old newspapers, squinting at microfilm, interviewing family members.

The result is "Kennett: The Short, Colorful Life of a California Copper Town and Its Founding Family" ($19.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing out of Chico). The author will sign copies of her book Saturday at 3 p.m. at Barnes and Noble in Chico. The public is invited.

The book includes more than 50 maps and black and white photographs, a reference list and an extensive index. The author's research sits lightly on the page; Schuldberg carefully sets the historical scene and then uses family stories and newspaper accounts to carry the narrative along. She does not gloss over what the "Euro American settlers" meant to the native Wintu. "In 1851," she writes, "a group of miners burned down a Wintu council meeting house and massacred about 300 people in the town of Old Shasta." By 1880 most of the Wintu were gone.

First called Backbone, named for the nearby creek, Kennett began to prosper in the late 19th century with the coming of the Southern Pacific railroad and the development of the town of Redding.

Charley Golinsky came to Kennett in 1884. He was "24 years old, good looking, short and wiry, and energetic." Convincing his Georgia family to follow him, Golinsky set up a general store and became the town's first postmaster. At about the same time a man named Charles Butters settled in Kennett with his wife and proceeded to buy up land. He was a mining engineer who wanted to build a utopia. What he did build was an ore processing plant. "This," says Schuldberg, "was the beginning of a rivalry with the Golinskys that lasted as long as the life of Kennett." In 1905, for example, townsfolk got into a heated debate over what to call the band -- Golinsky or Butters. Eventually it was called the Kennett Brass Band.

The author's mother arrived in 1899. Though she was romanced by a man named Royal N. Riblet, by 1905 he had left town and Rubie had left for Chicago (where she married the author's father in 1909). Just what happened in Kennett is still a mystery.

What was not a mystery was the importance of copper. The so-called "Copper Belt" around Kennett produced ores with 7 percent copper (compared with 1 percent of present-day ores). The Golinsky mine and the Mammoth Smelter helped make the area one of largest copper producers in the world. But the smelters took their toll, poisoning the air and worse. "Many men were maimed, burned or killed working in the open molten liquid vats, or near belts and cables. Men died from heat prostration."

There was a copper boom in World War I but then came the Depression. Kennett lost population, disincorporated in 1933, and by 1935 the first money was being appropriated for the construction of what was at first called Kennett Dam. Three years later "the U.S. government ordered the removal or destruction of all buildings left in Kennett." The town had faced numerous fires during its life but in the end it was buried by water. Gone are the tall stacks. All that remains of Kennett above the water line is Slaughter Island.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books (no manuscripts please), or to make comments, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Que tal, Sr. Barnnet. Los felicito por su perseverancia escribiendo en su blog. Le escribo porque estoy especialmente interesado en el personaje Charles Butters. He abierto un blog acerca de la historia de mi pueblo Santa Rosa de Lima en la cual Butters administró una mina que hasta el día de hoy, tiene incidencia en su territorio. He buscado fotografías de Butters, pero no he tenido éxito. He localizado en la biblioteca de la University of California, pero yo estoy en El Salvador y eso es muy difícil. Así que le pregunto: ¿existe en este libro (Kennet) una fotografía de Butters o más información acerca de su vida?. Saludos y buena suerte. Jorge Fuentes.