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First, Last, Biggest: Find it Here!

Thursday, August 28, 2014 1:05 PM Edited: Thursday, August 28, 2014 1:31 PM

The “First”, the “Last” and the “Biggest”: Find it here! Print E-mail

Humans have long been fascinated with the “first”, the “longest”, the “biggest”, the “greatest”, the “last”, the “oldest”, or the “youngest.” There are whole museums dedicated to such things, even a book that records phenomena, like this, the Guinness Book of World Records.

And ... when it comes to the unusual or the notable, Chico and the surrounding Butte County area has its fair share of natural, historical and cultural wonders.

Take for instance the story of Ishi, often referred to as the last Stone-Age man to walk out of the wild into the yard of an Oroville slaughterhouse. He was considered the last of the Yahi -- a tribe whose sole survivor managed to remain hidden from western civilization until 1911. His story is known worldwide but the Butte County connection is often overlooked. Plaques, murals and exhibits throughout the area pay homage to this story -- one that ignited the imagination of a public fascinated with cowboys and Indians around the turn of last century.

Twenty-six museums and historical sites throughout Butte County reveal not only our nation’s history but our unique local stories. Dolls, military equipment, civil war memorabilia, Native American baskets, arrowheads, agricultural devices, mining exhibits, Chinese textiles and so much more await the curious.

Butte County’s natural beauty and landscape often provided the backdrop for historical wonder.This is certainly true of Cherokee, located off Highway 70 on Cherokee Road. This tiny little town was named for a band of industrious Indians from Oklahoma (also Cherokee) who first panned for gold in the area. Cherokee’s mining operations were famous for a lot of reasons:

  • Thomas Edison was one of the owners of the nation’s first “electrified” mines -- right there in Cherokee. The newly discovered light bulb allowed 24-hour operation, year-round.
  • In 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes, his wife Lucy, Civil War General William T. Sherman, General John Bidwell and others came to visit what was then the largest and most famous hydraulic gold mine in the world. In its heyday, Cherokee’s water system was an engineering feat, able to deliver millions of gallons of water needed for the sophisticated mining operation.
  • Cherokee, which is little more than some ruins today and the site of Cherokee Museum, was once the site of three churches, eight hotels, three schools, and seventeen saloons.
  • Cherokee’s citizens enjoyed the county's first running water.
  • And finally ... some of the first diamonds found in North America were found in Cherokee (although some dispute the quality of such a find).

Butte Creek Canyon’s Honey Run and Centerville roads provide an incredible drive through history and beauty. Visit the Honey Run Covered Bridge, the only three-level covered bridge in California, the one-room schoolhouse, the Centerville Powerhouse (the oldest still-running hydro-powerhouse in California), and the Colman-Centerville Memorial Community Museum. You don’t even have to leave Butte Creek Canyon to do all this. Don’t forget to take in the natural beauty of the canyon, the rare flowers, ancient rocks and extreme contour of the land.

Yo! How about the biggest yo-yo in the world. Yep. Right in downtown Chico at the National Yo-Yo Museum inside the retail store, Bird in Hand. Listed in that famous book of famous things, the yo-yo weighed in at 256 pounds, 50 inches tall and 31.5 inches wide. It’s made of California sugar pine, Baltic birch from the former USSR, and hardrock maple. It was first launched in 1979 from an 80-foot crane into the San Francisco Bay. There may be bigger yo-yo’s but none that actually go up and down.

As far as Chico is concerned, it also has a few other distinctions:

While it’s not too evident today, Butte County was host to the second largest Chinese population at the end of the 1800s. The only real evidence now is the magnificent Chinese Temple in Oroville, built in 1863 with money sent by the Emperor of China himself. More than 10,000 Chinese once called this area home but were forced out in the late 1800s and early 1900s due mainly to racism.

Or what about Magalia (formerly known as Dogtown), located just up the Skyway from Paradise. This was the site of the first large gold nugget discovery in California. The nugget weighed in at 54 pounds, was worth $10,690, and was found April 12, 1859 by A.K. Stearns, a workman at the local mine. Paradise’s Gold Nugget Museum chronicles this and other wonderful local stories.

In terms of agriculture, Butte County was the birthplace of the black ripe olive recipe thanks to Freda Ehmann -- a widow who found herself penniless but determined to pay off her debt with the only asset she had -- a 20-acre olive orchard. The first black olives to hit the commercial market came from the Ehmann Olive Company’s Oroville plant. See this and other area stories at the Ehmann Home in Oroville, run by the Butte County Historical Society.

But Butte County’s olive story doesn’t end here. Today, 70 percent of all Mission olives grown on Planet Earth are grown here. They were planted more than 100 years ago, and continue to produce award-winning olive oil.

What about the story of California’s oldest living orange tree, the Mother Orange, originally planted near Bidwell Bar in 1856, (the site of Oroville's first gold discovery). This 150-year wonder spawned the entire Northern California citrus industry. Now located on Glen Drive in Oroville, the Mother Orange Tree has since been cloned by the University of Davis to preserve its unique characteristics.

On the topic of largest, the 700-acre Spanish-owned California Olive Ranch can’t be left out. Located south of Oroville, off Highway 70, is America’s largest grower and processor of olive oil.

Butte County was also the site of the planting of the first Pistachio nut varieties for commercial seed in the early 1900s. And ... while we’re on firsts, Bidwell Bar Suspension Bridge was California's first suspension bridge. Today, it is located at the south end of Lake Oroville in Bidwell Canyon, off Kelly Ridge Road

If you’re looking for the highest type of thrill, Feather Falls, located east of Oroville, is for you. At 640-feet high (the 6th highest in the United States), Feather Falls is a spectacular site.

And finally ... Butte County is smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Flyway -- the “highway in the sky” for millions of migrant birds. Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, located just outside of Gridley features a natural backdrop of the Sutter Buttes, the smallest mountain range in the world. More than 300 species of migrant birds and animals can be seen at Gray Lodge, which includes a wildlife museum.

But nothing beats viewing the rare and critically endangered Snow Leopard. No, we haven’t left Butte County. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation, located in Butte Valley, is home to many non-releasable, endangered, and exotic live animals. Local animals include a Mountain Lion and Bobcats. Global representatives include a black Leopard, a spotted Leopard, a Bengal Tiger, a Sumatran Tiger, two white Bengal Tigers, two African Lions, and many more.

For directions to view museums or areas mentioned in this article, please visit: 101 Things to Do in Butte County