● By Gary VanDeWalker
Little Shasta Church
story: Gary VanDeWalker photo: photographybytaryn.com
The Shasta Valley in Siskiyou County is filled with silent sentinels who guard the invisible histories of generations past. Mysterious lava rock fences line fields, marking boundaries of ancient families who no longer know this land. Weathered barns draw the wind through their wide doors, whispering the tales of the small towns and settlements in which the pioneering spirit sought to overcome the wilderness and bring an order to the once unconquered countryside. One such community appears on the maps as Little Shasta. Today, the road runs by a lonely church which bookmarks the memory of the once-prosperous town.
Like a beautifully dressed lady, the Little Shasta Church is the often photographed reminder of a place which once graced this valley’s floor. The town was founded in May 1853 by a mountain climber, John B. Rohrer. The church is all that remains of the original community. Driving down the road, the many lava rock fences recall the town’s seasonal population of Portuguese gold miners. The men spent their winters building the community’s fences for 25 cents every 16 feet, earning a sum of 50 cents a day for their work and taking a Sabbath rest inside the whitewashed sanctuary of the church.
The community’s success was attributed to the rich farming soil in the area. The inhabitants sold subscriptions and built the church in 1878 for $3,250. The village consisted of two stores, a flour mill, two schools and the church. Mail delivery was once a week, with incoming mail on Wednesdays and outgoing mail on Saturdays. Mail was addressed to the city of Mount Shasta, not to be confused with the present day city, which at the time was still called Sisson.
The church is worth the afternoon drive. Turning off I-5 at the Montague exit, the road winds through the beauty of successive ranches, the Shasta River often glimmering at a distance. Taking a left onto A-12, small lakes, wetlands and fields of volcanic rock checker the view. Along Harry Cash Road, the Little Shasta Cemetery remains in quiet reverence to those who once lived here, the church asking visitors to view her beauty as she watches over this part of the valley.
While the town has faded away and its foundations have sunk into farmland, the church continues to be a source of life. On frequent weekends, couples exchange vows within the church. Children play after the ceremonies, their laughter mingling with the airy glee of all who have come here to share their moment of happiness with the church’s history. With her thin white spire, the church appears, as she has for 130 years, to almost smile and welcome all who come to her. As the cars drive away, she stands tall and returns to her silent vigil.