Helena, California

Helena 1

The most active settlements in Trinity County, California, are linked by a state highway (SR 299) and anchored by Weaverville, the county seat.  Abandoned mining camps were often organized by the creeks that feed the Trinity River, sites of early “placer mining” operations.  In Helena, several buildings in various states of disrepair cluster near the North Fork (also the initial name for the settlement) of the Trinity.

Helena 3

The first building materials came from nearby.  The oldest remaining building in Helena, called “The Brewery,” was put up in 1859 and made with bricks of local clay.  The builder himself, Harmon Schlomer, a German immigrant, forged the metal rods and decorate anchor plates (he molded them in an “S” shape) that reinforced the brick structure.

Schlomer worked a mining claim in Helena.  He was also a merchant and a brewer.  Scholmer used the Helena building as a storehouse and operated a saloon out of the basement (hence the building’s moniker, though it was never used as a brewery per se).  This frontier entrepreneur erected the three-story brick structure as an income property; he intended to rent out the upper floors.

By 1860, Schlomer had built a toll bridge over the North Fork that linked Helena to the road network.  When State Route 299 was improved in the 1930s, however, it steered around the Helena settlement.  On the one hand, this route may have preserved some of Helena’s buildings.  On the other hand, it was bypassed as a commercial node on the highway.  A few people hung around Helena for a while and there is a post office box that looks to have been built in the 1970s.  Today it is completely abandoned, but enough remains to get a sense of how the place might have been organized.

Helena 2

The area is unstewarded and overgrown.  There has been some looting, but for the most part it looks like the buildings have been left alone to decay.  When the wood finally erodes (or is carted off for other building projects), more stalwart materials remain–a stone hearth and brick chimney stands over a barren stone foundation.

Helena 4

Weaverville, on the other hand, has held on.  The county courthouse and a modern lumber mill ensure some economic activity.  The well-preserved Main Street is also a stretch of SR 299 that links Redding in the valley, to the east, with the coastal towns of Arcata and Eureka.  Main Street has cafes, shops, and restaurants, as well as a museum and historical society.  There is a late 1920s-era movie theater still in operation.  A pattern of curling iron staircases–the city’s architectural trademark–pleasingly punctuates the rhythm of a covered sidewalk.  These picturesque features result from split ownership of first and second stories.

Pictures of Weaverville to come! —

Today, there is a debate amongst residents of Weaverville around the State’s plan to reroute Highway 299 around the city.  The new stretch of road would make it easier for large trucks (many carrying lumber) to traverse the Trinity Alps.  It would also reduce high-speed traffic on Main Street.  Less trafficked, Main Street might become safer and more pleasant.  On the other hand, without traffic, Weaverville might become a ghost town.  Debates like these over access to transport infrastructure are crucial to a discussion of urban ghosting.

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