Between Myth and Legend: Who Really Owned Henderson Open Space?

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Henderson Open Space, located behind the former Raley’s shopping center on Hartnell Avenue, is a jewel among Redding’s green spaces. It’s generally accepted that the family for whom Henderson Road is named also owned the semi-wild land that runs west down to the Sacramento River, south to the Rother subdivision and north toward the Cypress Street Bridge.

Surprisingly, documentation reveals that another family owned and lived on the property for more than 50 years.

The Viscaino family owned 20 acres of what’s now Henderson Open Space. They purchased it from Jacob Graffe in 1931 and moved onto the property in 1932. After making yearly payments, a Transfer of Property document shows that Graffe transferred ownership to Mrs. Viscaino in 1943.

Mike Viscaino and his mother in 1940.

Mike Viscaino and his mother in 1940.

The Viscaisno’s youngest son, Mike, born in 1934, is one of their seven children raised on the property.

The land was different then. There were open meadows and clear ponds teaming with fish. The largest pond featured a thriving wood duck population, now long gone.

The Sacramento River was different, too. It originally lay east of where it is today. You can still see a shallow channel of water where it once ran full and clear.

Viscaino Family Life

Viscaino’s father farmed seven acres of the land, raising alfalfa, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, turnips, watermelon and more, working it with a horse and plow. Look closely and you’ll see railroad tie fence posts he put up to keep his horse out of the crops.

Viscaino crops were prized in the area. Redding’s Safeway market bought everything Mr. Viscaino could produce. What wasn’t sold to Redding’s 8,000 residents was taken to Sacramento for sale.

Mrs. Viscaino planted an orchard near their homestead. It included two walnut trees — which she grafted into English walnuts — four peach trees, four or five cherry trees, three fig trees and a persimmon tree. The persimmon and giant walnut trees are still alive on Henderson Open Space.

The food they grew helped the Viscainos survive. Harvested walnuts helped pay the tax bill. Elderberries that grew abundantly around the property became delicious jam. Mrs. Viscaino canned the salmon they caught from the river. This, along with some bacon and dried corn they’d grown, saw the family through the winter.

The Viscainos lived in a four-bedroom, 1,500 square foot house. Now, the flat land where it once stood features a disc golf station, a stone bench and trees that weren’t there 50 years ago.

Remnants of the old homestead – erroneously believed to have been the Hemsted family’s – are still visible: the driveway, the septic tank that Viscaino’s father built and the pump house that pumped water for his garden. The concrete steps, and foundation for one of the cabins the elder Viscaino built are still there.

But there’s more to this story.

The Viscainos spent summers on the Henderson property and winters in Enterprise. Young Mike even attended first grade at Cypress Elementary School.

“You had to hang onto the bridge to let traffic get by to get there,” he said.

One day the sheriff caught then-young Mike Viscaino at the other end of the bridge on his way to school. After taking Mike straight to the principal, they made arrangements for him to go to an Enterprise school so he wouldn’t have to walk that bridge again.

Where did the Henderson family mythology come from?

The Cobblestone Shopping Center was the actual Henderson homestead. Their land ran down Hartnell Avenue and included the property on the Red Banks (Hemsted Avenue). They owned nothing on the west side of Henderson Road.

But disaster brought the Hemsteds and Viscanos together.

From December 1939 through January 1940, Redding experienced a 200-year flood with torrential rains.

“The flood washed the gravel in,” said Viscaino, which he said created more land. The Viscaino’s original 16 acres morphed to 20.

But the devastation from the flood caused the Viscainos to lose their home, two barns and two rental cabins. Afterword, they stayed in the Hemsted’s barn and stored things there for a while.

Viscaino senior eventually built cabins up above the original homestead area.

In 1947, at age 53, Viscaino died of miner’s consumption. He had worked at the smelter in Kennett, now submerged beneath Shasta Lake. One of Mike Viscaino’s brothers, who’d also worked there, one of his sisters and his mother later died from respiratory problems.

Mike Viscaino lived on the “Henderson” property from 1934 until he left for the Army in 1953, where he served for 20 yrs before coming back to Redding. His Mother stayed and lived alone on the property. She finally moved out in the 1980’s.

Visitors walking through Henderson Open Space come across a large sign dedicated “In memory of Mildred Hemsted Sommerfield, in 1914-2013…” It depicts a painting called “The Old Homestead,” created by Edith Hemsted Woodrum.

Edith Hemsted Woodrum is the fraternal grandmother of Redding philanthropist Steve Woodrum, a financial backer of the Henderson Open Space. A Henderson descendant, he has stated that the painting depicts part of the property where Lithia Chevrolet and View 202 restaurant are now located. He agrees it’s mistakenly been thought to be the Hemsted home.

So upon mistaken identity a myth has grown and the open space has been inaccurately attributed.

Should the property rightfully be renamed for the Viscainos, who lived and worked the land for more than 50 years?

With clear documentation available, perhaps the City owes some sort of visible and proper recognition to this resilient family.

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A former long-term resident of Redding who loves its natural wonders, journalist and blogger Debra Atlas is reachable www.Eco-hub.com or debraatlas@gmail.com
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