4226 Cherokee Rd.
Oroville, CA 95965
4226 Cherokee Rd.
Oroville, CA 95965
The museum open by appointment only.
Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for children (ages 6-13), and free for children under 6.
Jim Lenhoff, Curator
PLEASE NOTE: The museum property suffered damage from the Paradise fire and is working hard to repair. Please call before visiting.
Cherokee’s history includes visits by President Rutherford B. Hayes, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, inventor Thomas Edison, O.J. Simpson and maybe even ancient Chinese explorers who allegedly predated white settlers by thousands of years. It’s also a story full of firsts, from the first phone call made in Butte County to the first diamonds discovered in America.
This history is unknown to most, and may have been forgotten altogether if not for the enduring efforts of one man: Jim Lenhoff, founder and president of the Cherokee Heritage and Museum Association. Lenhoff acquired Cherokee’s remaining downtown structures, eventually opening the Cherokee Museum in the late 1960s.
The museum is housed in a building moved in 1878 to its current Middle Town location from the Upper Town section of Cherokee. The building, constructed many years earlier, has formerly served as a miners’ boarding house, a stagecoach stop and a private residence. Its interior, behind a set of large double doors still opened by an old brass key, and the surrounding grounds are cluttered with relics illustrating the area’s past.
In the arena of natural history, these include many rocks, fossils and petrified wood, including fossilized mammoths’ bones which, Lenhoff gleefully points out, retain intact petrified flesh.
Between 1870 and 1894, Cherokee’s hydraulic-mining operation, at its peak controlled by the Spring Valley Mining and Irrigation Company, was regarded as a technological marvel. Using gravity and a series of pipes that gradually grew smaller, the water was channeled through 18 huge water cannons—called monitors—that spewed water at pressures high enough to shoot 400 feet. These monitors blasted away at Cherokee’s proximate peak, washing tons of rock and gravel down shafts through the humongous Eureka Tunnel and over nine miles of industrial-sized sluice boxes.
Much of that rock, mud and water, known as “slickens,” washed down into the Mesilla Valley north of the mine and was carried out into the Sacramento Valley via Dry Creek, which flows west toward Richvale. The first of several lawsuits from valley farmers claiming crop damage was filed in 1872, but judges determined that, with all the other debris-dumping going on, the Spring Valley company couldn’t be held accountable. To prevent further litigation, the company purchased 23,000 acres of land south of Durham—still known today as the Cherokee Strip—and built a series of levees and canals to strain the slickens and lessen damage.
Controversy still raged over hydraulic mining, but the Cherokee miners’ efforts at mitigation allowed the mine to continue as others were being closed by new anti-debris laws, until 1887. For a brief time, hydraulicking was replaced with drift mining, but large-scale mining at Cherokee ceased altogether in 1894. All told, according to mineral database mindat.org, more than $15 million in gold (at period prices), 400 diamonds and some platinum were taken from the mine during its boom years.
After the mine closed, Cherokee’s long, slow decline began. Smaller-scale efforts to mine Cherokee continued sporadically until the 1930s, with little success. In 1947, a fire burned the town’s last store to the ground. No new businesses have opened since. All that remains of Cherokee’s past are the buildings described earlier, an old schoolhouse now used as a private residence, and a pastoral cemetery where some of Cherokee’s pioneering spirits rest eternally. As of the 2010 census, the population of Cherokee was 69. Modern-day residents live mostly on more modern ranches and small farms spread throughout the rural area, built on the bones of the once-thriving mining mecca.
antiquities, archaeology, archives, basketry, furniture, historic site, history, mineralogy, photography, prints/drawings
exhibitions, children's classes, community heritage projects, lectures, guided tours
Much of the information in this listing was found in an article in the Chico News & Review from 7/18/13 by By Ken Smith kens at newsreview.com
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