A Besotted Mining Town is Laid to Rest...Underwater

2 min
Whiskeytown Lake was created in 1962 when the Whiskeytown Dam was built, flooding the basin where the small mining settlement once was. (Daveynin/Flickr)

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 Whiskeytown, in Shasta County.

Know a California spot with an unusual name? Send a note to: calreport@kqed.org.

The small mining settlement of Whiskeytown got its name from an incident involving a mule and, unsurprisingly, some booze.

"There was no road there yet or anything," says Jay Thompson. Thompson grew up near Whiskeytown, in the small city of Shasta. Now he works at the Shasta Historical Society.

Thompson says that during the Gold Rush, all supplies were brought in by mules. One fateful day, a pack mule was carrying a barrel of whiskey to town.

Whiskeytown. (Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society)

"They were crossing a creek, and it fell off and broke open," he explains. "They named the creek Whiskey Creek, and then from there they just went ahead and called the [town] Whiskeytown."

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The town is virtually non-existent now. All you can see above ground are remnants of mines in the hillsides. But below ground, it's a different story.

"It's under a lake, a beautiful lake called Whiskeytown Lake," says Thompson.

What remained of the old town - a defunct hotel, a couple of other crumbling brick buildings - became flooded with water when the Whiskeytown Dam was built in 1960.

Thompson says, if you go snorkeling there, you're likely to see a few ruins underwater.

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