State Historic Park
Narrated by Russ Christoff
In the town of Chico, visitors may explore the home of General John Bidwell, one of California's greatest historic figures. Although, pioneer, statesman, politician and philanthropists are words that describe him well, in his heart John Bidwell saw himself as an agriculturalist.
With money he made from the gold rush, Bidwell bought 28,000 acres of land that he had spotted in the upper Sacramento Valley.
Eventually, he filled his property, Rancho Chico, with livestock and planted many different kinds of orchards and crops.
With Bidwell's hard work and ingenuity, the ranch's prosperity made it the most famous farm in California.
With his success in agriculture, Bidwell found himself serving as a congressman in Washington where he met and fell in love with his future wife, Annie.
Although raised in an elite social climate, Annie, 21 years Bidwell's junior, was a serious young woman. Deeply religious and committed to many causes, both moral and social, she found a soul mate in kind and ethical John Bidwell.
During their married life, the two fought for a woman's right to vote, higher education, and brought Presbyterianism to the area.
Today, the 26 room mansion where John and Annie shared their lives, is preserved by the state with the help of the Bidwell Mansion Association.
At various times throughout the day, the public can tour the home of this remarkable couple.
Built by architect Henry W. Cleveland, the overall style of the three story brick structure is that of an Italian villa.
The rooms on the ground floor contain the General's office, a large entry, formal parlor, dining room and library.
The second story of the mansion contains six large antique filled bedrooms where guests stayed.
The Bidwells entertained extensively in these rooms with guest lists, that included John Muir and Susan B. Anthony.
Today, these large airy rooms are decorated with linens, clothing and accessories from that era.
One smaller room has even been restored, to look much as it did when Annie Bidwell was teaching neighboring Indian women to sew.
The third floor houses six smaller additional guest rooms, and an office. These and all the furnishing throughout the Bidwell Mansion, reflect the Victorian period.
The center of the third story contains a ballroom that was, because of the Bidwell's religion, never used for dancing. The ceiling of the ballroom was designed with ventilated shutters. On hot afternoons, these were opened to draw out the warm air and cool the entire house naturally.
Chico Creek winds past the mansion, whose grounds reflect seasonal flowering plants and shrubs...and some very old trees.
An informative visitor center and carriage house, containing some examples of old conveyances are also on the property.
Our tour guide Ellen, explained why she feels Bidwell Mansion is important to preserve.
Ellen: This park is a representation of the people that made it famous. They were pioneers in many different senses. The spirit of women's rights, that was unheard of back then for women to even own property, equal property rights, or even have the right to vote.
It's a representation of the agricultural area that John nurtured and grew. He had the foresight to know that the soil was very rich, and that California would be an excellent place to grow things.
Also, the religious movement of Presbyterianism that was not even here at all in this area, and Annie brought that.
Also, the gold rush that was a representation of what you could do if you were industrious enough to stick with it.
And this house was built from the monies that John Bidwell made in the gold rush.