Colusa looks a lot different than it did 150 years ago when its structures were mostly wooden, its streets were unpaved, and hogs and dogs roomed unfettered in the streets.
But it took the city’s sesquicentennial celebration last Saturday for people to realize that what made Colusa truly unique then, remains the same today.
The daylong celebration that marked Colusa’s incorporation on June 16, 1868, began with an early-morning pancake breakfast at City Hall and ended with local pilots tipping their aircrafts’ wings over Veterans Memorial Park later that evening.
“The state is changing; Colusa is changing; things don’t stay the same,” Gov. Jerry Brown said to a large crowd at City Hall Saturday morning. “But they keep the same character.”
Brown, Assemblyman James Gallagher, and Colusa County Supervisor Denise Carter pointed out at various times over the course of the celebration that the people who founded and formed Colusa and the surrounding county, including Will S. Green, Dr. Robert Semple, Col. Charles Semple, and Williams B. Ide, were also the most important people to help shape California.
“This community is so strong, and it has truly stood the test of time,” said Gallagher, who presented city officials with a Legislative Resolution. “When this community first came together, there were many very civic-minded people who knew they could make this great valley strong; they could make it fertile; and they could make it a strong and vibrant community right here in the heart of the Sacramento Valley.”
Green (1832-1905), a Colusa newspaperman, former mayor, State Legislator, and U.S. Surveyor General, filtered into the celebration throughout the day, not just in the speeches, but also in a skit later in the evening, directed by Sue Gibbs. Green was instrumental in the early creation of modern irrigation and flood control, which allowed Colusa and the surrounding area to develop its agricultural economy, officials said.
“He was a very forward looking man, whose name is still spoken of today,” Gallagher said. “But so many individuals were like him, and they knew the strength of community. And that exists here now to this day.”
While freeways eventually replaced river and railroad transportation, and rice and nut crops replaced wheat, commerce in the city has changed little in the 20th and 21st century.
“It is never the same, but there is a continuity,” Brown said. “There are challenges ahead, but resilient people working together can accomplish amazing things. This is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, and it keeps so much of its traditions.”
The Sesquicentennial celebration included the breakfast, hosted by the Colusa City Firefighters, canoe and kayak races on the Sacramento River, the “Hogs and Dogs” dinner, hosted by the Sacramento Rural Firefighters, music and entertainment, and a town photo.
About a dozen people took a walking tour after the breakfast of some of Colusa’s most historic structures, including the Colusa County Courthouse, (1861) Our Lady of Lourdes Church (1880), St. Stephens Episcopal Church (1886), and notable homes.
“Colusa has been and is home to much fabulous architecture,” said Supervisor Carter, whose mother-in-law Jane F. Carter (1927-2018) wrote the book “If the Walls Could Talk: Colusa’s Architectural Heritage.”
Artist Sally Jones Paul, who was part of Saturday’s celebration and tour, said she uses Jane Carter’s book when she walks in Colusa in order to learn more about the old buildings she now plans to paint. Paul and husband Don Farriuolo both grew up in Colusa, but they have lived many years in Winters. The couple just recently bought her late mother’s home and they now plan to spend about half the year in Colusa.
“I’m just going to bring my easel and set up and paint them all until I’m done,” Paul said. “I just don’t think that there are many small towns that have this many beautiful old buildings in them.”
The Colusa Sesquicentennial Committee hosted the city’s 150th birthday party. They had banners, designed by Allison Yerxa, put up in town; they reprinted old photographs; they produced an 18-month calendar – all with the idea of celebrating Colusa’s history, change, growth, what made and still makes Colusa special, how to improve the community, and how to better utilize its uniqueness, such as the Sacramento River.
In the end, members of the committee said they realized that Colusa really hasn’t changed all that much in a century and a half.
“I came to realize that what makes Colusa uniquely special, exceptional, and even magical are the uniquely special, exceptional, and even magical people who live in Colusa and have lived in Colusa for the last 150 years,” said Charles Yerxa.
Yerxa said many people contributed to making the Sesquicentennial celebration a success, and the event played out in amazing fashion.
“The fact that the weather was probably the most beautiful weather in 150 years added to my rather goofy, hokey, sense of Colusa exceptionalism,” Yerxa said.
The Colusa County Board of Supervisors on June 12 adopted a proclamation commemorating the 150th anniversary of the county seat, which Carter presented at Saturday’s celebration.
“The Colusa Sesquicentennial observance is a special tribute to a proud and dedicated community,” Carter said.