Tehama County: From Humble Beginnings to a Prosperous Present

Tehama County: From Humble Beginnings to a Prosperous Present Main Photo

23 Mar 2020


Clock towerPicture credit: Dan Massie


The naturally beautiful and conveniently located Tehama County in the north central region of California has been attracting settlers with its wide open spaces and scenic mountainscapes for centuries. Tehama County was originally formed from parts of Butte, Colusa and Shasta Counties in the late 1850s. The County is named for the City of Tehama, but the current county seat and largest city is Red Bluff. The origin of the name Tehama is thought to be a variation of the local Native American word for "high water," a moniker that is fitting due to the County’s position on the Sacramento River.

The Sacramento River, the largest river in California, bisects Tehama County. The river attracted many settlers and miners to the area in the late 1800s. It has provided a fertile environment and irrigation for the agricultural community for centuries and continues to do so today.  

The First Settlers

The City of Tehama was one of the earliest settlements north of Sacramento. Some of the first permanent and notable non-indigenous settlers in what is now Tehama County were Robert Hasty Thomes, Albert Gallatin Toomes, William George Chard and Job Francis Dye. These men moved to the area in the early 1840s after being given land grants, and they were credited with founding the City of Tehama. 

William B. Ide and Peter Lassen were two other prominent early non-indigenous settlers in Tehama County. Ide was a farmer and politician who was the commander of the famed and short-lived California Republic in 1846. Lassen was a Danish-American rancher and prospector who was thought to be one of the first cultivators of wheat, grapes and cotton in Tehama. He also established the first blacksmith shop.  

Industries: Then and Now

The daily work lives of most of the early settlers consisted of mining and ranching, two of the first occupations in Tehama County that grew to shape what the County is today. Many of the first settlers in Tehama County acquired large fortunes working in the mines in the late 1840s and used these resources to build Tehama to prosperity. Lumber was another booming industry here, beginning around 1850. After the arrival of the railways in the late 1800s, manufacturing grew into a popular industry as well since exporting goods became a more viable option.   

Today the main business sectors that call Tehama County home are agriculture, construction, wholesale trade and manufacturing. Mining still holds a place here, but not like it once did. Tehama County has grown significantly, but still holds true to its deep roots in agriculture.    

Accessibility Shaped by History

In 1872 the Central Pacific Railroad access to Red Bluff was completed. At the time, it was one of the first major railways to become established in the area. It is now controlled by the Union Pacific Railway. Today, Tehama County is served by two single-track Union Pacific rail lines including the primary Union Pacific line between Sacramento and Portland, Oregon.  

The main rail line enters the County from the southeast parallel to Highway 99E. It bears north near the well-established Red Bluff and exits the County next to Interstate 5 at Cottonwood.

The second line, formerly California Northern railway, enters the County from the south along Interstate 5 and connects with the primary line at the City of Tehama.

The Union Pacific lines bring freight hauling opportunities to Tehama County, and a large portion of the area’s industrial businesses are located near the rail lines.

The construction of Interstate 5, a major north to south highway route that stretches from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, began in the late 1940s. Today, it still serves Tehama County, adding to the area’s excellent accessibility. 

The combination of the established rail routes, Sacramento River waterways and extensive highway systems in Tehama County created the perfect modern day infrastructure for a growing business climate. 

A History of Recreation 

Early settlers were thought to be enamored with the beauty present in Tehama County. Two parks named for Ide and Lassen, early settlers to the area, are the The William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park and the Lassen Volcanic National Park. 

A one-room adobe house at the Ide Adobe State Park is believed to be the former home of William B. Ide. The park is located on the west bank of the Sacramento River, only a mile north of Red Bluff.  

Lassen ParkThe Lassen Volcanic National Park includes the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range, the Lassen Peak. It skirts the edge of Tehama County. 

These scenic parks, as well as other area parks and recreational opportunities, bring many visitors to Tehama County regularly. 

A Prosperous Present 

The expansion during the American Frontier that brought the first settlers to Tehama County made way for prosperous business opportunities in the same place today. A solid history of agricultural and manufacturing combined with the accessibility made possible by the Sacramento River and railways has built Tehama County into a hub of possibility for any size or type of business. To learn more about the beautiful and thriving Tehama County, click here.    

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