Locals know that the City of Mt. Shasta was established in 1887 as the town of Sisson. Virtually nothing of the original town exists today. Eleven major fires, some of them true “urban firestorms,” destroyed nine city blocks of our original buildings. The first of the fires came when the town was just three years old, and the last important one ignited 100 years ago Friday the 26th when the town was 30 years old.
In the early years, the boomtown economy was such that buildings and entire blocks regrew like mushrooms. The block between Castle and Alma Streets was Whiskey Row. It was anchored on the north by the El Monte Hotel with the Berryvale Hotel not far down the block. The rest of the “Row” was almost exclusively saloons, cigar shops, and barber shops, many with rooms upstairs.
Because Weed and McCloud were “company towns” which imposed moralistic regulations not found in Sisson, our community did a thriving business supplying liquor and prostitutes for the thousands of loggers and lumbermen who came to the region each season. In 1896 an inferno destroyed Whiskey Row and took with it the City Hall and Fire House. The “Row” was promptly rebuilt.
The 1904 fire destroyed two blocks of businesses in the growing “legitimate” part of town. Walnut Street, now Mt. Shasta Boulevard, between Castle and Lake Streets was laid waste and this disaster prompted more fire-resistant construction. At about the same time Sisson’s water system was upgraded and many new fire hydrants added.
In 1907 the Railroad Depot Hotel burned. In 1914 a firestorm burned two churches and 19 homes on two city blocks north and west of Alma and Pine Streets. In 1915 the huge Del Coronado Hotel burned. In 1916 the monumental Sisson Tavern was consumed.
On Friday afternoon the 26th of October 1917 with a brisk north wind blowing, smoke and flames were discovered in the alley behind Nizza’s Shoe Shop; behind the art galleries today. There was plenty of water and the volunteer firefighters were ready, but a firestorm soon erupted.
The fire burned in both directions. It consumed three saloons, a barbershop, a tailor’s shop and two vacant buildings. One after the other, taking the Mt. Shasta Hotel and finally eliminating the El Monte Hotel as it died out on Alma Street.
There was general agreement at the time; the entire town may have burned had it not been for the brick building of Mrs. Rostel and the concrete saloon building of Peter Mugler. Five buildings nearest Castle Street were saved, along with Carrolton’s big blacksmith and wagon shop on the SE corner of the block.
Prohibition was already in place in unincorporated Siskiyou County, and only one saloon immediately re-opened on the rebuilt block.
The destruction of Whiskey Row, 100 years ago, in the run-up to general prohibition, was the last big fire in Sisson and marked the end of an era for the little wooden boomtown that would become Mount Shasta City.
My Facebook page, The Sisson History Project, has many more stories.