Shasta County, California
Redding, County Seat
Redding, California is located on Interstate Highway 5 at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley (89,861 residents in the 2010 census). It serves as the county seat for Shasta County and is one of the largest cities in northern California. Native Americans have lived in the area pretty much since humans crossed the Bering Straits and the Wintu Tribe occupied the area when Anglo-Europeans first arrived. Spain laid claim to sovereignty in the area, but Anglo-Europeans did not enter the scene until the early decades of the nineteenth century. Fur trappers are thought to have been the first, but, in 1844, Pierson Reading was given a Mexican land grant that included the area that was to become Redding. (See Cottonwood for more on this part of the story.)
California was annexed into the United States following the defeat of Mexico in 1848 and gold was discovered in California almost immediately thereafter. Settlers and gold prospectors flooded into the region and a sprawling collection of shanties quickly appeared along the Sacramento River in what is today the city of Redding. The principal town in the region at the time was Shasta. Shasta was where the elite lived and worked. The shanty town that was to become Redding was then known as Poverty Flats. The official history of the city gives the date of its first settlement as being 1873 and that probably marks the date when the economy had developed sufficiently to see the construction of permanent structures as well as the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The town of Shasta was in decline by that time, but Pierson Reading's Rancho Buena Ventura was going strong.
Reading was clearly the leading entrepreneur in the area and he is credited with having founded the city. Because his name is pronounced "Redding," it is understandable that a lot of people might think that the town was named after him. It was not. That honor goes to a railroad official by the name of Benjamin B. Redding. Redding was a formidable personality in his own right, but many in the town did not like the choice and a vociferous argument arose. The city officially changed the name to Reading in 1874, but the railroad would not recognize the change. In 1880, it was changed back to Redding, a telling commentary on the influence of the Southern Pacific Railroad in early California history.
In succeeding years, the importance of gold waned and the economy of the region focused increasingly on timber, agriculture and ranching. In the 1930s and early 1940s the construction of Shasta Dam revitalized the economy and Redding grew in size and importance. During the 1950s the construction of the Whiskeytown and Keswick Dams further stimulated Redding's growth. During the last half of the twentieth century, Redding became a haven for retirees fleeing expensive and frenetic living conditions to the south. The city's economy shifted to a heavy dependence on the service and medical industries. Today, the largest single employer in Redding is government. The city is also notable for having the largest collection of big box stores in northern California.
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