Oroville Pioneer, Judge Charles Fayette Lott
04/26/2017 11:00AM ● Published by Al Rocca
By Al Rocca
Young men living in St. Louis in late 1849 found resisting the California Gold Rush difficult. And so it was with 24-year-old lawyer Charles Lott. As a lad, his parents emigrated west from New Jersey in the hopes of finding more opportunity. Charles did well in school, securing a solid education and preferring advanced studies in law. By 1840, he graduated and felt somewhat satisfied practicing his craft in Illinois. Some accounts state that he met Abraham Lincoln during this time. Yet, like most Americans, he listened and read with interest about James Marshall’s gold discovery at Coloma, Calif., in January 1848. By the end of the year, President James Polk verified the discovery. He flatly stated, “Recent discoveries render it probable that these mines are more extensive and valuable than was anticipated.” That was it; a gold rush was on, and Lott had to be a part of it.
In planning his trip to California, Lott heard that the Sierra foothills near Coloma already realized hundreds, probably thousands of miners spreading out in all directions searching for the ideal creek to lay a claim. His overland trip in the summer of 1849 tested his physical and mental faculties. However, he proved equal to the challenge, traveling carefully on the Peter Lassen Trail and finally down to Long’s Bar, about two miles upstream from what is now the town of Oroville on the Feather River.
Lott’s mining endeavors ebbed and flowed, like most miners’. One story recalled that despite the intense competition between miners, civility did prevail. “One time, he rode along a trail in company with others and they saw a pan containing at least $1,000 in gold dust and nuggets on a rock near the trail. Nearly a week later, he passed by a second time, and the pan with its contents of gold was still there, although it is probable that 50 men had passed that way during the week.” Local miners came to respect the young lawyer and prevailed on him to help organize the area into a local government.
Butte became one of the original 27 counties mapped out by the new California legislature in February 1850. Miners drawn to Lott’s fair-minded personality and judgments voted him as a first state senator, and he served several terms. Meanwhile, a town, first named Ophir City, later changed to Oroville (gold town), sprang up where navigation naturally stopped upstream on the Feather River. By 1854, a post office opened and Lott purchased a city lot. He also took time away from his work to return to St. Louis where he married Susan Heyer, a Pennsylvania native.
Charles and Susan built a large two-story home between Third and Fourth streets and proceeded to have considerable influence in the new town’s growth and direction. In 1869, Lott won election to county judge. After one term, he decided to return to a private law practice and pursue his varied investments in mining and farming. He helped create California’s first citrus exchange. As the years moved along, the Lotts produced three children, one of whom died before her third birthday. They also built onto their impressive home. Susan died in 1902, while Charles lived on until 1918. He was 94.
The Lott home is now called Sank Park and sprawls over an entire city block. The Lott house is considered a city museum, with volunteers providing tours of the Victorian-styled structure. Roses and a wide variety of trees and shrubs separate walk areas and isolated patios. An historic carriage house, large gazebo and picnic area round out the site. Spring and early summer are excellent times to visit.
www.cityoforoville.org, click on “Visitors,” then “Museums”