Paradise Isn't Lost, It's in Butte County

3 min
First Gold Nugget Days Donkey Derby, 1959, in celebration of the transport of the gold nugget from the west branch of the Feather River to Dogtown, now Magalia. (Courtesy of Mark Thorp)

A lot of us Californians like to hit the open road, explore miles of highway and venture off onto some back roads. Sometimes, we come across towns with some pretty bizarre and surprising names. For this installment in our series “A Place Called What?!” we head to Paradise in Butte County. Know an unusual place name in California? Tell us about it in the comments below, or send a note to calreport@kqed.org.

When Mark Thorp says he lives in paradise, he means it.

Thorp is one of the 26,000 people who live in Paradise, California, a town in Butte County about 10 miles east of Chico. He works for the Paradise Ridge Chamber of Commerce coordinating membership and events.

He says although the town is very nice, that's not how it got its name.

"It was a gambling-oriented mining community," he explains. During the Gold Rush, a group of miners — who were also members of the local fraternity E Clampus Vitus — called the town "Pair of Dice." Eventually, the name was refined to "Paradise."

First Gold Nugget Committee 1959, in celebration of the discovery of the 54-pound nugget on April 12, 1859. (Courtesy of Mark Thorp)

Besides its flashy name, Paradise is famous for being the home of the largest gold nugget ever found — a whopping 54 pounds! To celebrate the finding and transport of the huge gold nugget, each year the town hosts Gold Nugget Days. This year's celebration will be on April 28, 2018.

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"It's a number of different events ... it involves donkeys in competition to haul a weight up the west branch of the Feather River Canyon Wall," Thorp says.

First Gold Nugget Days Donkey Derby was in 1959 celebrating the transport of the gold nugget from the west branch of the Feather River to Dogtown, now Magalia. (Courtesy of Mark Thorp)

The festivities continue throughout the day with parades and other activities in Paradise proper.

Thorp says in many ways Paradise is still the small town it was 35 years ago. "Just with some names that have changed with a few retail locations."