Oroville, CA, the Butte County seat, is on the banks of the Feather River, which rises near the Nevada state line, winds its way through the Sierra Nevada range down to the foothills around the city, continues into the Central Valley, and ultimately joins the Sacramento River as its main tributary about 20 miles north of the state capital.
History and Demographics
At the farthest point of navigation on the Feather River, the city started out as a supply depot for miners during the 1849 Gold Rush. Originally Ophir City, the name changed after the first post office opened in 1854. Bidwell Bar, now submerged by the lake behind Oroville Dam, was the first gold mining camp in the area, drawing thousands to seek their fortunes.
For a while, Birdwell Bar grew so quickly that by 1855 residents had constructed a suspension bridge, the first in the state, across the Feather River to accommodate traffic for a town of more than 2,000 and the first Butte County seat. Bidwell Bar Bridge, a vehicular replica of the original pedestrian structure, is now part of CA Highway 162 on the eastern shore of the lake. By 1856, however, the gold at Bidwell Bar had run out, and the population dwindled, many relocating to the city, which then became the county seat.
By the end of the decade, however, the city also went from boom to bust when the remaining gold supply gave out. The state legislature had incorporated it in March 1857 but in February 1859, less than two years later, revoked the incorporation. Permanent incorporation finally came in 1906, after which the municipal government organized with a board of trustees and elected city officials. With incorporation and organization accomplished, the city proceeded with overdue municipal improvements and by 1920 constructed many miles of concrete sidewalks, paved the main streets, and built a levee, a grammar school, a sewer system, and a library.
The 2010 Census reported a population of 15,506 in the Oroville, up from 13,006 in 2000.
The Dam and the Lake
Between 1961 and 1968, the California Department of Water Resources constructed the dam and created the lake several miles upriver northeast of the city. At 770 feet high in height and 6,920 feet in breadth, it is the tallest earthen dam in the USA and one of the 20 largest dams in the world. The Associated Press reported that the May 1968 formal dam dedication set off a week of festivities in the city attended by 50,000 celebrants. A great recreational benefit from the creation of the lake is the presence of the Foreman Creek, Loafer Creek, Bidwell Canyon, Kelly Ridge, and Potters Ravine recreational areas around its shoreline.
A “Business and Industry Profile” published by the Center for Economic Development at the California State University at Chico reports that during the 2007–2009 recession white collar employment in Butte County expanded. Health care, social assistance, educational services, finance, and insurance increased significantly while employment in retail and manufacturing decreased dramatically. The decrease in retail employment may be a temporary effect of the recession; however, the decrease in manufacturing may be of particular concern as an indicator of long-term economic problems.
As might be expected for a county seat, the city’s top employer is Butte County, which has a payroll of about 2,500, followed by the city’s hospital with about half that number. Third is the big Pacific Coast Producers cannery, which employs more than 700. The Gold Country Casino and Hotel off the Quincy Highway (CA Highway 162) just outside the city limits to the east has 500+ employees.
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