A Brief History of the Grindstone

It was sometime in 1997 that I found myself perusing the antique shops north of Redding and, in Ralph Hollibaugh’s shop, I ran across two trade tokens: one read "GOLDEN EAGLE CIGAR STORE, REDDING" and the one next to it simply read "J. W. POTTS, REDDING, CAL.", with the reverse side of each indicating that they were "good for five cents in trade." Research on these tokens led to the discovery of the information which follows.

Mr. Edwin Voluntine, an early day hardware merchant at Shasta, at one time received an exceptionally large shipment of grindstones and stacked them on the sidewalk in front of his store on Main Street where he allowed them to remain for a long time. The surface of the grindstones was large and smooth and the height of the stacks just right for comfortable seats. A number of the leading citizens of Shasta appropriated the grindstones for their own use and they became a center where meetings were held. "Weighty matters were discussed and questions decided of great moment to the state and nation. There was no appeal from the decisions." This group became known as the Grindstone Board and functioned for many years. Edwin Voluntine's store closed when he died in 1890.

James Isaacs, a member of the Grindstone Board, had been an attorney in the old town of Shasta prior to relocating his office to Redding after the removal of the county seat from Shasta. The Hoff Building, East of the Golden Eagle Hotel, was used as the Shasta County Court House in 1889 and 1890 until the new courthouse on the hill was finished. The proximity of this "court house" brought customers to the cigar store.

John W. Potts and a man named Eberle started the Redding Cigar Factory in the then-new Golden Eagle building in 1888, consisting of a cigar store facing Yuba Street, and a room behind the store where cigars were rolled. Sometime between December of 1889 and April of 1893, Eberle sold out to Potts.

The business became very successful and famous locally as the rendezvous of Redding citizens who eventually formed an organization called the Grindstone Club, consisting of business and professional men who gathered nearly every evening in the back room to talk politics and other business of the day. In time they elected officers annually and had an annual banquet. 

In the summertime they would take their chairs from the back room and place them on Yuba Street in front of the hotel. One at a time the members would raise their voices to argue some point, and everyone was given his chance to express himself on the burning issues of the day. The street was unpaved and there was not much traffic, and sometimes the row or semi-circle of chairs would extend half way across the street. Perhaps a horse and buggy would pass once every half hour, and therefore these informal meetings of the Grindstone Club did not interfere with traffic.

Potts did not change the name of his "Smooth Diamond" cigar to the "Grindstone Club" until 1900 or 1901. By this time Redding was the hub of Northern California, the courthouse had been in town for more than a decade, and most of the leading citizens who had been in Shasta (and possibly members of the Grindstone Board) were now in Redding.

Grindstone Club, consisting of business and professional men, public officials, and others who gathered from time to time in the back room...eventually elected officers and held regular meetings and discussed theology and philosophy as well as politics and government...Practically every business and professional man, and holder of every public office, newspaper man, mining man, banker or just plain retired person spent some time in the back room of the Golden Eagle Cigar Store. 

An account in the Redding Searchlight in 1918 tells of the annual meeting of the club on New Years Night...and the principal address of the evening was..."Who Wouldn’t Be a Boy Again"...a local newspaper said when chronicling the death of John Potts in 1930, "in the old Grindstone Club all questions of logic, politics, or philosophy were discussed with abandon, and oftentimes erudition". 

John J. Bartosh bought the Golden Eagle Cigar Store in Redding, California, in July, 1907....He had started working as a cigar-maker for the former owner, John W. Potts, six years earlier at the age of fourteen. Bartosh continued the cigar-making business until January, 1918 when he sold his store in order to serve his country in the World War. His Army service was short as peace was declared the following year, so Bartosh returned to his store but apppears to have no longer manufactured his own line of cigars (the War had made cigarettes become the dominant form of tobacco use) and the last formal meeting of the Grindstone Club appears to have been in 1920. On New Years Eve in 1958, he retired and closed his store for good.

John James Bartosh, whose cigar store was a traditional gathering place for Redding old-timers for more than half a century, died November 23, 1968 in Redding at the age of eighty-one. A fire destroyed the Golden Eagle Hotel in 1962.

While researching this history I changed employers in May of 2000, after many years, and was given a going away party by my coworker Bob Esau, which included cigar smoking. We discussed making this a regular tradition, to meet for cigars on Friday afternoons in order to wind-down from a week of work and to discuss matters of interest. By July we were referring to our meetings as "Tradition," and had invited other friends to join us. 

One of the topics I was interested in at this time was Western Philosophy, especially that of Socrates and Plato. Studying these concepts led to the thought that the Grindstone Club as an idea can live on in the present. As long as the idea and spirit of the Grindstone Club are alive, who’s to say that it isn’t "The" Grindstone Club? The people and location may change, but the idea lives on. 

By February 2001 we were referring to our weekly meetings as the Grindstone Club "resurrected." I had collected more of the Golden Eagle Cigar Store tokens over the years, and I began to give one to each new Grindstoner as a token of their official membership of this historic Shasta County tradition.