DUNSMUIR — This city of 1,800 about 25 minutes north of Redding on Interstate 5 is situated on a great fishing stream, the McCloud River, and on a railroad track that has a historic passenger depot where Amtrak stops whenever people want to get on and off.
The town still shows its early-California roots, planted in the mid-1800s, when it was a Gold Rush city and then a railroad town where passengers came and went and lumber and other natural resource essentials were loaded on freight cars to be carried far and wide. So well regarded is Dunsmuir’s railroad heritage that it recently was named a Union Pacific Train Town USA, the first town in Northern California to be so honored.
Dunsmuir’s City Manager Brenda Bains applied for the honor by writing an essay, and to her surprise won. A ceremony was held at the depot, and about 75 citizens were given a two-hour train ride in a special car. It was part of the railroad’s 150th anniversary celebration. I wonder whether Madera has applied for that?
The people who built Dunsmuir had good taste. The buildings — commercial and residential alike — are made of wood or of stone and brick in the carpenter gothic style. They still cling to the hillsides overlooking the river. Some appear ready to fall down, while others are lovingly restored. They all have a certain beauty and grace.
Dunsmuir wasn’t particularly busy Saturday afternoon, when a traffic jam was one car full of visitors from Madera. But a few tourists had sauntered into the Brown Trout, a restaurant, espresso shop and clothing store.
It was one of the commercial buildings built in the 19th century over a fast-running and very cold stream, which provided air conditioning through openings in the floor. In the winter, the holes were covered.
The stream is still there, easily viewed through Plexiglas and cast-iron grating, a reminder of a simpler and more relaxed time.