Butte County's Paradise
● By Al Rocca
Up the Ridge
Story and Photo By Al Rocca
If you have ever driven the short distance from Chico to Paradise, you have probably sensed the dramatic change in geography and climate. The latter community, an unincorporated area until 1979, was occupied originally by members of the Maidu tribe and visited by Gold Rush miners in the mid-19th century. Later, it served as summer pasture for old-time cattle ranchers like Sam Neal.
Though Paradise is only 14 miles up “the ridge” from Chico, summer temperatures are typically five to seven degrees lower than the valley. The physical change is noticeable as valley oaks and dry, brown weeds transition to sweet-smelling coniferous pine trees.
Early settlers happily discovered economic success growing berries, apples and pears. At the same time, the Diamond Match Company built a railroad from the valley to this area, immediately stimulating additional settlement. Paradise in the early decades of the 20th century realized a series of economic ups and downs until the post-World War II boom rekindled interest. Much of this new interest came from Southern Californians seeking a pleasant retirement environment. The name itself helped draw attention to the area. Interest increased when the moderate “mountain climate” was fully realized.
The Butte County Board of Supervisors in 1945 realized that this growing interest in Paradise called for an improved road to the site.
The group secured federal, state and local backing, and the new two-lane highway, later expanded to four lanes and named “the Skyway,” opened for automobiles in July 1950. The result of the new transportation link and additional area promotion proved positive. The population of Paradise rose to 9,000 people by 1960.
As more people visited the area, one obvious question asked of local citizens centered on the origin of the town’s name. Actually, no one is certain how the area received its name, but there are two commonly talked about possibilities.
- A popular saloon, named Paradice, from the late 19th century, served thirsty gold miners and offered entertainment at numerous gambling tables – thus the connection (pair-a-dice).
- One early pioneer, William Leonard, on a hot summer day, drove his wagon up “the ridge” to discover a definite cooling of the air. Supposedly, he remarked to friends, “Boys, this is paradise.”
Visit www.townofparadise.com to learn more about the area. Click on “Events” to find out about family-oriented activities such as Johnny Appleseed Days, Gold Nugget Days and the Paradise Chocolate Fest.