Freda Ehmann’s legacy is rooted in Oroville’s olive industry. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
While Freda Ehmann was not the first to pickle olives, she is considered the mother of the canned olive industry.
The widow started Ehmann Olive Company in 1898 with 20 acres in Oakland, and turned it into a multimillion dollar company when she was in her 50s. Ehmann olives were distributed nationally by 1904, and in 1922 she had 700 acres of trees in the Oroville area.
The German native revolutionized the pickling process, which in turn made canned olives readily accessible to the masses. Until then, most olives in California were turned into oil.
Her curing process ensured all of the olives were black, like one finds today in a can of olives, instead of the green or brown color that was the norm at the time.
The original Ehmann olive label was red, yellow and black, the same as the German flag. She had come the United States as a teenager with her mother in 1852.
Her home that was built in 1911 in Oroville is available for tours, and is now the site of Butte County Historical Society. It was constructed by her son, Edwin, in the Craftsman bungalow style. (Edwin became mayor of Oroville in the 1920s.)
One of the nice things about this museum is people can actually sit on the furniture and touch items. A lot of this has to do with most of the furniture being period pieces, as opposed to her original belonging. One thing that did belong to Ehmann that is upstairs is her writing desk. It’s tiny, as was she.
The stained glass is also original. Ehmann had an extensive beer stein collection, a symbol of her roots.
Tours are available of the old Ehmann home in Oroville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
By 1925 the Ehmanns were out of the olive business and the house had been sold.
A nationwide botulism outbreak in 1919 was traced to the Ehmann Olive Company, though others were implicated as well in the deadly spread.
According to Food Safety News, “USDA’s Bureau of Chemistry did a study of Ehmann’s glass and metal containers in 1920, finding both could look normal but still contain pathogenic organisms, including Clostridium botulinus. The California State Board of Health responded to the 1919 outbreak with emergency regulation of olive production on Aug. 7, 1920, requiring sanitation through the processing facility and mandating a thermal process. California responded with the Cannery Inspection Act of 1925.”
That same website goes on to say, “Judith Taylor, who wrote the book The Olive in California, interviewed Freda Ehmann’s granddaughter who said her grandmother never could come to terms about the company’s role in the 1919 outbreak.”
The Ehmann Olive Company was bought by the Mt. Ida Packing Company in 1925. In 1970, it became Olive Products Company, a division of Beatrice. According to the historical society, the company was then acquired by DaLallo Company, which produces Ehmann Olives that are sold through the Butte County Historical Society. Today, Lodestar Farms, which bottles olive oil, traces its roots to the Ehmann olive trees.
The Ehmann estate is a museum as well as headquarters of the Butte County Historical Society. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A plaque in Magalia points toward Sawmill Peak near where a 54-pound gold nugget was discovered. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Butte County once boasted being home to the largest gold nugget in the world.
On April 12, 1859, Ira Weatherbee discovered the 54-pound specimen in the Feather River Canyon near the town of Magalia. At the time this tiny enclave north of Paradise was known as Dogtown. That is why the chunk of gold is referred to as the Dogtown Nugget.
The plaque along the old Skyway, which was erected in 1955, says: “This marker symbolizes the discovery of the first large gold nugget in California. It was found across this canyon in Willard Gulch April 12, 1859. Weight 54 pounds.”
The gold piece was found at a hydraulic mine. Even though it was melted down, casts of the nugget were made. One used to be on display at the Gold Nugget Museum in Paradise until it burned down in the 2018 Camp Fire.
Weatherbee took the more than $10,000 he got for the nugget and built the Chico Hotel, which opened Jan. 1, 1861. The downtown lodging establishment twice burned to the ground, and was not rebuilt after the second fire.
Eventually that record-setting gold nugget was eclipsed by one discovered in August 1869 in Sierra Buttes. It is the largest ever unearthed in California; weighing in at 106 pounds, according to the Sierra County Historical Society.
An array of planes fills an old hangar that is now the Chico Air Museum. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Planes of all shapes and sizes, along with parts—like a tire from a space shuttle—are packed into what looks like a nondescript hangar just steps from the tarmac at Chico Municipal Airport.
The Chico Air Museum, which has been open since 2005, is impressive with its multitude of planes, displays, history and future plans. When the museum opened it was in a small World War II Army Airfield building. Needing more space, in 2015 the museum moved to a large WWII Army Air Corp hangar.
Knowing nothing about the museum other than it existed, this was quite a delightful find. So much information is available that it would take hours or multiple visits to absorb everything.
It was the history that captivated me the most. The Chico Army Air Field existed from April 1942 to December 1945. A United Press story published in the Chico Record newspaper on March 3, 1944, said, “Chico Army Air Field will become a Fourth Air Force base in late April.”
Gear has come along ways through the years. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The federal government via eminent domain acquired 276 acres one mile north of the airport for the Titan 1 Missile Program. An extensive underground complex was developed, which included three missile silos. On May 24, 1962, an explosion at the site completely destroyed one of the missiles and caused significant damage to the silo.
The missile site was deactivated in 1964. The city of Chico in 1982 declined to accept the property from the government because of liability concerns. That land is now privately held.
Plenty of information about the Titan 1 Program is available at the museum, as is other military information.
A small section is dedicated to aerial firefighting. To this day the airport is an air attack base for CalFire. The base was established in 1969.
Future plans at the museum include re-creating the interior of the International Space Station. Even so, the space exhibit still seems extensive, with the details a bit exhausting. But better to be comprehensive than lacking in information.
I was surprised to see and thus learn the space shuttle tire isn’t much bigger than a truck tire. The difference is that tire can “carry three times the load of a Boeing 747 tire.”
Volunteers wander about, able to answer questions if the displays didn’t cover something.
In depth details about Chico’s involvement in the Titan I Missile Program line one wall. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Most planes are inside, though some are outside.
Current museum aircraft:
Thorpe T-211 Sky Scooter
Antonov AN-2 Russian Biplane
Bell 47 Helicopter
Culver Cadet LCA
Chance Vought A-7 Corsair (Vietnam War)
Delphin L-29V Czechoslovakian jet trainer
Grumman Guardian(one of only six in the world)
Lockheed P2-V7 Neptune ASW aircraft
Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star
North American F-86 Sabre
Piasecki H-21 helicopter
Pitts Model 12 extreme aerobatic airplane
RAF 2000 GTX SE Gyrocopter
Schreder HP Sailplane
SPAD XIII (WWI Biplane)
Taylor Titch Formula 1 Reno Racer
Consolidated Vultee BT-13 Valiant(iconic trainer from WWII and Chico Army Airfield).
Military, experimental, other aircraft and equipment at the Chico Air Museum. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
McEvoy Ranch has been producing high-end olive oil for decades. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Swirl, smell, gargle, swallow. That’s how you truly taste olive oil.
Gargling isn’t the term Sam Dorsey used, but it was essentially the action she told us to take. She may have said slurp. The point was to have the liquid linger in the back of the throat.
Dorsey is president of McEvoy Ranch, having started with the company 20 years ago as a gardener.
What an experience the ranch has created. Most of the tasting, though, was traditional with bread dipped in the oils. I left with a new appreciation for what olive oil should taste like.
In 1990, Nan McEvoy founded the 550-acre ranch located in the Petaluma Gap that divides Marin and Sonoma counties. Only 15 percent of the acreage is planted. More wine grapes used to be grown there, but the current philosophy is to focus more on olives. They are grown, harvested, milled, blended, and bottled on site.
Sam Dorsey, president of McEvoy Ranch, explains the intricacies of making olive oil. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
If it weren’t for the San Francisco Chronicle, there would be no McEvoy Ranch.
This is because the founder of the ranch, McEvoy (née Phyllis Ann Tucker), was the granddaughter of M.H. de Young. He along with his brother founded the Chronicle in 1865. McEvoy in 1981 became chairwoman of the parent company of the Chronicle.
She was living in Georgetown on the East Coast at the time. That was a place she called home for 36 years. In 1989 she returned to the West Coast to better manage the family’s publishing enterprises. At the time she and her son, Nion, owned one-third of the holdings, with nearly two dozen family members controlling the remainder of the enterprise. McEvoy died in 2015 at age 95, 14 years after the newspaper was sold to the paper’s rival Hearst Corporation for $660 million. Prior to that, family discord forced her out as chairwoman by implementing a bylaw stating no one could be on the board over age 72. McEvoy was 75 then.
Today, Nion McEvoy owns the ranch. It is because of him and his management team that the ranch has been turned into a tourist haven and a force in the industry.
Dorsey is involved in the industry as a whole, including backing California legislation that would change labeling practices. She is an advocate of a bill that would mandate labels could only say “California Olive Oil” if 100 percent of the olives are grown in California.
At McEvoy Ranch the organic traditional blend is the most popular. It is a combination of seven Italian varietals. Absolutely delicious. But so were the flavored oils—like garlic, lemon and basil. One that isn’t often seen is jalapeno. Also great.
A small fraction of the 550-ranch is planted with olive trees and wine grapes. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Dorsey said new blends are always in the works. The latest to be bottled is ginger turmeric. It would be best as a finishing oil. I’ve used it on a roasted vegetable green salad. Loved it.
The setting is completely serene. It’s a perfect place for tasting oils and wines. It’s off the beaten trail, doesn’t feel like you are in the Wine Country, and seems so civilized. They aren’t into high pressure sales of product or joining their clubs—though there is plenty of product to buy and more than one club to join if you choose.
This is a destination I highly recommend. Fantastic experience. We left with wine and olive oil.
Fans are back in the stands at Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It felt good to actually be in the stands at a Giants game instead of a cardboard cutout like so many people were last year because of the pandemic.
Baseball in person—as is true of most sports—is so much better than watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio. The energy of the spectators (albeit there wasn’t much last Saturday when they got trounced by the Pirates), the sounds of the ballpark, the smells—you just don’t get that without being in the stadium. Fortunately, the vibe was even better the following day when Giants refused to be swept by Pittsburgh.
I’ll admit, I was a bit apprehensive about even going to San Francisco because of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Headline after headline makes we wonder when the pandemic will really be in the rearview mirror. I’m vaccinated, but I know I am not 100% immune from getting this virus.
Lunch at the ballpark–beer and garlic fries–$25. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Reassurance from my friend Karen, who is in charge of our season ticket group and who had been to the ballpark earlier in the month and who is equally concerned about the virus as I am, convinced me I would feel safe. She was right.
Neither of us cared we were in the minority with our masks on. We wore them outside the ballpark, taking the escalator up, walking to our seats, and then when we left. They were on when getting food and going to the restroom.
Masks were off in our seats. This is because of where they are located—in a handicapped section without people nearby. Had I been in a regular seating area, I’m pretty sure my mask would have been on throughout the game. I’m sure this would have changed the experience in some manner, but not negatively enough to have wanted to be anywhere else.
The stadium isn’t full, but at least there are fans in the stands this year. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Mask wearing is easier to swallow than the prices at the park—$10 for garlic fries, $15 for a beer, $40 to park. Then there were the tickets.
Still, it’s the game that is so fascinating. Seeing the entire ballfield instead of just what the cameraman focuses on allows fans to witness everything. A home run in person is so much more exciting live; no matter how good the call is by an announcer. When the ball goes out of the park—wow—the collective excitement is electrifying. The spectators can be entertaining as well—with what they are wearing, yelling, and consuming.
Maybe the two games last weekend were more special because it had been a year of not being able to attend a game. Maybe it was seeing a friend in person (and getting a hug) who I hadn’t seen in two or three years. Maybe it was feeling like a bit of my pre-pandemic life was returning.
I look forward to going back in September … and hopefully again in the post-season.
The museum in Centerville encapsulates the history of Butte Creek Canyon. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
In a month, 395 elk, 17 grizzly bears and eight antelopes were killed just a few miles from downtown Chico.
This was 1832 when pioneers explored Butte Creek Canyon; when wildlife was more pronounced. Grizzlies haven’t roamed anywhere in California since 1922.
Gold brought people to this tributary of the Sacramento River in search of their fortunes. In its heyday, the canyon was home to more than 3,500 people. Centerville had a post office, school, hardware and grocery stores, a few bars and a bordello.
The Census showed the population of the canyon being 1,086 in 2010, and 958 in 2019. According to a docent at the Colman Centerville Museum, 45 percent of the homes in the canyon were destroyed in the 2018 Camp Fire. Many of those residents have not returned.
That same fire that swept through the town of Paradise came within 100 feet of this museum that preserves the history of the canyon.
The museum opened in 1976; the dream of Lois Colman, granddaughter of canyon pioneer D.B. Colman. Today the museum and old schoolhouse, which sit on the same plot of land, provide a glimpse into what life was like so long ago.
Artifacts seem to fill every nook, with the gold mining part of the lore. Individuals are singled out, as are groups of people including the Maidu Indians who first lived in these parts. Chinese laborers worked in the area, but were not treated well, the docent reveals.
While there is plenty to look at and read, it was great having a one-on-one tour by the docent.
Next door is the old, one-room schoolhouse that educated canyon students from 1894-1966. The next school year the students were bused into Chico proper when the district became unified. The Centerville Recreation and Historical Association bought the building in 1968 to preserve its legacy.
While the wildlife of the 1800s is gone from the canyon, the natural beauty remains. It’s worth the drive; making one feel farther than a few miles from the city limits of Chico. And the museum is a wealth of information. While it’s free to peruse the old buildings, donations are welcome.
All grade levels were once taught in the schoolhouse in Centerville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
To the unknowing it’s hard to tell if the concrete structures are remnants of the old bridge or the beginning of something new. To those who are familiar with the Butte Creek Canyon, they see hope.
The 2018 Camp Fire that leveled the town of Paradise brought other destruction, including wiping out a historic bridge that for more than a century crossed Butte Creek. The Honey Run Covered Bridge, which was built in 1886, was reduced to ash in the PG&E caused inferno.
The bridge had been placed on the National Registrar of Historic Places in 1988. This was the last-three span Pratt-style truss bridge left in the United States. It was 238 feet long, with the sections being 30, 128 and 80 feet, respectively.
Less than a dozen covered bridges exist in California.
The Honey Run Covered Bridge near Chico before it was destroyed in 2018. (Image: Bernice Livingston)
Today, the nonprofit Honey Run Covered Bridge Association is raising money to rebuild the structure. Almost one-third of the $3.3 million needed to do so has been collected. The rebuild has been split into three phases, with the first one completed. This included the foundations, abutments, columns, and bank protection.
Flooring and trusses would be next, with the siding and roof the final stage. Each phase will be built once the funds are secured.
When it was first built the cost was $4,300, though that did not include the cover. The cover was added in 1901 to protect it from weather and use. The bridge was built to carry up to 1,500 pounds. This accommodated pedestrians and wagon trains to begin with, then automobiles.
For years it was the main route to Paradise before the Skyway was built. The covered bridge was open to vehicles until April 12, 1965. That day the eastern side collapsed after a truck ran into a corner.
At that time county officials said they would not rebuild the bridge, but instead created a concrete and steel route nearby to cross Butte Creek that was better suited for vehicles.
Local residents were not happy the covered bridge would no longer exist. This is when the Honey Run Covered Bridge Association was created. Through donations the covered bridge reopened to foot traffic in 1972. Special events such as weddings took place at the bridge.
That same association is in the process of rebuilding the bridge to what it was prior to the fire.
Private donations are funding the rebuilding of the covered bridge that spans Butte Creek. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
More info about the bridge, fundraising activities, and other ways to help are available online.
The 55th annual pancake fundraiser is June 13, 8-11am at the Covered Bridge Park. All proceeds go to rebuilding the bridge. This is part of the larger Centerville Faire on the same day that goes from 9am-3pm at the Colman Museum and Schoolhouse.
Directions: From Chico take the Skyway toward Paradise. Turn left on Honey Run Road. Covered Bridge Park is 4.3 miles on the right.
Honey Run Covered Bridge Park is open Friday-Tuesday, 9am-dusk. It is privately owned. The $5 fee goes toward the bridge restoration project. Dogs permitted on leash.
Elected officials vote to keep “Old Hangtown” as Placerville’s nickname. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Nooses and hangings are not something most towns brag about. Placerville, though, is a little different.
A noose has been part of this town’s logo for decades. And “Old Hangtown” is the motto of this city sandwiched between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe.
While most associate nooses with lynching of black people in the South and elsewhere, that’s not what is being promoted in this California town. Some say the logo dates back to the 1970s, while the nickname is definitely a relic of the Gold Rush era. After all, it was in neighboring Coloma where gold was first discovered in California in the 1800s.
On April 13, the Placerville City Council voted to remove the noose from the logo. The city said it will cost about $3,500 to eliminate it from signs and logos. It’s already off the website. The noose was on a tree behind a man panning for gold.
On April 30, the council then affirmed on a 5-0 vote that the moniker “Old Hangtown” was going to stay, citing the history of how the name came about and how the state has embraced it. California officials have placed two historical markers in town touting Old Hangtown’s significance in the state’s history, as well as the tree where the hangings occurred.
Placerville has changed its logo from having a noose, left, to removing it, right.
Hangman’s tree, which is on what is now known as Main Street, was where justice, so to speak, was delivered. This is where three men were hanged in 1849 after being accused of robbery and attempted murder. Their sentence was death. This is how the tree got its name. The tree was then put to use for quite some time, which is how the town got its nickname.
The tree is no longer standing, but a business exists on the site with an effigy of a miner hanging from a noose. This has been removed and replaced at various times.
Placerville was first called Dry Diggins. For a short time, it was officially called Hangtown. In 1854 the city was incorporated as Placerville. This is quite a change in thinking, with “placer” translating from Spanish to English as “pleasure.” Those who took their last breath swinging from a tree surely would have disagreed with the name change.