8 Oroville Museums to Explore
With more museums per capita than Sacramento, Oroville is a surprising under-the-radar museum destination.
History buffs in particular will find Oroville a worthwhile destination with its five history-focused museums, all of which are just a few blocks from each other.
Pioneer History Museum
A trip to the Pioneer History Museum, managed by the City of Oroville and housed in an oversized replica of a 49er’s cabin, feels like a step back into the Gold Rush era. While it doesn’t look like it from the outside, 6,000 square feet of historic treasures from the mid-1800s to the 1920s await visitors. From the original Oregon City School organ to a doll from the Donner Party to displays on the museum-founding pioneer families, a tour paints a vivid picture of the lives of early California settlers.
C.F. Lott Home
Another city museum and historic building to explore is the C.F. Lott Home, a Victorian revival-style structure built in 1856 by “Judge” Lott, a gold-rush pioneer who helped form California’s government. A tour of the house—brought to life by docents clad in period costumes—reveals stories of the Lott family, their importance to early California, and the love between Lott’s daughter, Cornelia, and Jesse Sank. Their love lives on with the home’s location in beautiful Sank Park, perfect for a leisurely stroll.
Chinese Temple and Museum Complex
For a different perspective on California pioneer history, head to the Chinese Temple and Museum Complex. This now-California landmark was built in 1863 to serve the largest community of Chinese north of Sacramento and highlights this group’s contribution to the area. The city-owned museum also has an extensive tapestry display, a collection of Chinese and American costumes, and more.
Butte County Historical Society Museum & Ehmann Home
At the Butte County Historical Society (BCHS) Museum, learn about Butte County's history from the early mining days to present time through both permanent and rotating displays and get all your questions answered by its knowledgeable docents. Also managed by the BCHS, the nearby Ehmann Home showcases Oroville’s role in the ripe olive industry at “the house that olives built.” Freda Ehmann perfected a curing process for ripe olives at the turn of the 20th century, which in turn launched California’s olive industry. Her 1911 home stands testament to her and the industry she helped shaped.
Nature & Outdoors
Outdoor enthusiasts will also find museums to enjoy
Feather River Nature Center & Native Plant Park
The city-managed Feather River Nature Center & Native Plant Park sits right on the Feather River at the former site of a Maidu fishing village. The Bath House, which provided facilities for swimmers and sunbathers in the 1930s, today provides nature education programming and exhibits portraying local wildlife, while the Nature Center grounds are home to various native plants, trees and animals.
Lake Oroville Visitor Center
Though away from the central downtown area of the rest of the museums, a drive to the Lake Oroville Visitor Center is worth a trip of its own. Managed by the Department of Water Resources, the visitor center overlooks both the lake and the dam and features interpretive displays, an audio-video room, and more. Perhaps most fun is its 47-foot viewing tower, where you can take in 360-degree views of the lake and dam through high-powered telescopes.
Bolt's Antique Tool Museum
Finally, an exploration of Oroville’s museums wouldn’t be complete without the one-of-a-kind Bolt’s Antique Tool Museum. With over 12,000 hand tools on display, it’s the only known museum of its kind in the world. Don’t hesitate to chat with its City of Oroville museum docents, who will tell you more than you ever needed to know about the collection!
Oroville State Theatre
Add to your museum day by catching a show at the historic Oroville State Theatre, which, while not technically a museum, has its own rich history worth discovering. Constructed in 1927 from a design by renowned architect Timothy Pfluger, the State Theatre has been undergoing renovations by the State Theatre Arts Guild (STAGE), the non-profit that owns the theatre, to return it to its 1920s glory. The renovations include paint restorations, installation of a modern-yet-vintage marquee, and restorations to an authentic Wurlitzer pipe organ.
Whether you’ve held memberships for years or are a first-time visitor, come discover for yourself the history and culture on display at Oroville’s museums.
This story was originally written by Explore Butte County for Upgraded Living's June 2021 issue.