Oroville is situated on the banks of the Feather River where it flows out of the Sierra Nevada onto the flat floor of the California Central Valley. It was established as the head of navigation on the Feather River to supply gold miners during the California Gold Rush.
The first discoveries of Gold at Oroville were made in the fall of 1849. Then known as Ophir, the first store opened in the winter of 1849-1850 by Alexander G. Simpson and James Law. In 1852, the excitement caused by the finding of gold at White Rock depopulated Ophir, but a large population of Chinese still continued to mine in the bluff below Ophir. The turning point in the history of Oroville was the organization of the FEather River and Ophir Water Company, which was formed to construct a canal to bring water to the dry diggings of Ophir. The canal was completed in 1856 and Oroville's boom was started. In 1856, Oroville was the 5th largest town in the state of California with a population of about 4,000 people.
As said in Wells and Chambers' History of Butte County: "Stages ran from Oroville to a great many mining camps. The streets of Oroville looked like those of a great city. The thoroughfares were crowded with people passing to and fro, and by heavily laden wagons and pack animals....Every other door opened into a saloon or a gambling house. The amount of business transacted by merchants and hotel men was enormous. Vast quantities of gold dust were taken out every week within a mile of the town, irrespective of the stream of wealth that poured in continually from other quarters. Those were "flush times" in Oroville."
The bill providing for the incorporation of the town was passed by the legislature in 185, and signed by General Bigler on March 14, 1857. However, the mines began to wane soon after incorporation, and on February 18,1859, the bill disincorporating Oroville was approved.
The town was finally incorporated in 1906. The government of the city was organized by the creation of a board of trustees and the election of city officials. With incorporation accomplished and the city government organized, Oroville entered upon a period of rapid municipal improvement. In the next 12 years, many miles of concrete sidewalks were constructed and the business section of the city and of Bird Street were paved, a levee was built as well as a grammer school, sanitary and storm water sewer systems were put in, 2 churches, an exposition building and a Carnegie Library were constructed.
Bidwell Bar, one of the first gold mining sites in California, is now under the water of enormous Lake Oroville. Bidwell Bar is memorialized by the Bidwell Bar Bridge, an original remnant from the area and the first suspension bridge in California (California Historical Landmark #314).
Lake Oroville was created when Oroville Dam was constructed. It is the tallest earthen dam in the United States, at 770 feet high and 6,920 feet across. Tailings from the gold dredging era make up most of the material used the construction of the dam. Beneath the dam, a cavern as large as the state capitol building houses six power generating units. Coupled with the four units in the Thermolito Power Plant, they generate more than 2.8 billion kilowatt-hours of power annually.
In the early 20th century the Western Pacific Railroad completed construction of the all-weather Feather River Canyon route through the Sierra Nevadas giving it the nickname of "The Feather River Route". Oroville would serve as an important stop for the famous California Zephyr during its 20 year run. In 1983, this became a part of the Union Pacific Railroad as their Feather River Canyon Subdivision. A major highway, State Route 70, roughly parallels the railroad line through the canyon.
The Chinese Temple (CHL #770 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places is another monument to Oroville's storied past. Chinese laborers from the pioneer era established the Temple as a place of worship for followers of Chinese Popular Religion and the three major Chinese religions: Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. The Chinese Temple and Garden, as it is now called, has an extensive collection of artifacts and a serene garden to enjoy.
Ishi, Oroville's most famous resident, was the last of the Yahi Indians and is considered the last "Stone Age" Indian to come out of the wilderness and into western civilization. When he appeared in Oroville around 1911, he was immediately thrust into the national spotlight. The Visitor's Center at Lake Oroville has a thorough exhibit and documentary film on Ishi and his life in society. (Source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oroville,_California)