Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park

California, United States
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Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park is a beautiful, three-story, 26-room Victorian House Museum that stands as a memorial to John and Annie Bidwell. John Bidwell was known throughout California and across the nation as an important pioneer, farmer, soldier, statesman, politician and philanthropist. Annie Ellicott Kennedy Bidwell, the daughter of a socially prominent, high ranking Washington official, was deeply religious, and committed to a number of moral and social causes. Annie was very active in the suffrage and prohibition movements.

The Bidwells were married April 16, 1868 in Washington, D.C. with then President Andrew Johnson and future President Ulysses S. Grant among the guests. Upon arrival in Chico, the Bidwell's used the Mansion extensively for entertainment of friends. Some of the guests that visited Bidwell Mansion were President Rutherford B. Hayes, General William T. Sherman, Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard, Governor Stanford, John Muir, and Asa Gray.

When constructed, Bidwell Mansion featured the most modern plumbing, gas lighting and water systems. The overall style of the three-story brick structure is that of an Italian Villa, an informal, warmly romantic style. The building's exterior is finished with a pink tinted plaster.

Visitors should note that the house museum is open by guided tour only. Tours are held Tuesday through Friday on the hour from 12pm to 4pm. On weekends the tours run on the hour from 11am to 4pm. Tours are first-come, first-served. Tour sign-ups and ticket purchases are at the Visitor Center.
Getting There & Fees
The Mansion is located at 525 Esplanade in Chico.

From Highway 99: Take East First Avenue exit and head west. Turn Left on Esplanade. The Mansion is located on the right hand side of the road at Memorial Way and Esplanade.

From Highway 5: Take Highway 32 exit at Orland east 20 miles to West Sacramento Avenue. Turn left (east) onto West Sacramento Avenue to The Esplanade where you turn right (south).

Latitude/Longitude: 39.7423 / -121.8478

Tour Fees are as follows:
Adult 18 and over: $6.00
Youth 5-17: $3.00
Children 4 and under: Free
Seasons/Climate/Recommended Clothing
Spring is mild and often wet. Summer temperatures can reach well over 100 degrees. Fall and winter days range from the low 40s to the mid-70s. The mansion is climate-controlled. Layered clothing is advised.
Operating Hours & Contact
The Visitor Center is open Monday - Wednesday, 12-5 and Saturday & Sunday, 11-5. Closed Thursday & Friday.

Tours are scheduled Monday through Wednesday from 12pm to 4pm and leave on the hour. They take approximately 50 minutes with the last tour leaving at 4pm.

On weekends the tours run hourly from 11am to 4pm. Those interested in a group tour should call ahead for reservations.

Telephone: 530-895-6144
Accessible Features
Tours consist of three floors of Bidwell Mansion, including approximately 50 stairs. The first floor of Bidwell Mansion is accessible via an exterior ramp. The two upper levels are only accessible by stairs. An open-captioned video of the 2nd and 3rd floors may be viewed in the Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center is completely accessible. It includes restrooms, water fountains, a lobby, a museum store, an exhibit hall and a theater. The exhibit hall, which highlights the Bidwell’s influence, is generally accessible. Assistance in the store is available, if needed. A captioned introductory video about the Bidwells is available. A captioned video of the upper floors is also available for tour guests who cannot climb the stairs to view the second and third floors.

The Carriage House is behind the Mansion and offers displays that are generally accessible.

Restrooms are in the visitor center and accessible for most people. Parking for the Mansion includes two accessible spaces with one a van space. Routes of travel between all facilities are paved, level and generally accessible.
Park History
Native People
The Mechoopda, who spoke the Konkow language, lived on Little Butte Creek, about 3½ miles from what is now downtown Chico. The land was abundant with plants and animals that allowed the Mechoopda to nourish their body and spirit. Their skills at basketry enabled the native people to collect, transport, store and cook their food.

With the discovery of gold and the influx of miners and settlers, the lives of the native people changed forever. An enduring relationship was established when John Bidwell was befriended by the Mechoopda after he purchased the Mexican land grant of Rancho del Arroyo Chico. Most Mechoopda, as well as residents from other villages, moved to Bidwell’s ranch, where they worked.

Today the Mechoopda people are a vibrant community and stewards of their ancestral land.

A Proud Californian
During his early days in California, Bidwell served as business manager for another well-known California pioneer—John Sutter. Bidwell personally carried the first gold sample discovered in California to be assayed in San Francisco.

In the summer of 1848, Bidwell made his own gold discovery near the Middle Fork of the Feather River. Acting as both miner and merchant, Bidwell used the Gold Rush to build his financial resources. He used this money to further his new state in the agricultural and public service arenas.

Rancho del Arroyo Chico
By the 1850s, Bidwell had purchased more than 30,000 acres. He then built a general store, a hotel, post office and flour mill.

About his land, Bidwell wrote: “The broad plain, richly carpeted with lush green grass and tall clover, was studded with magnificent groves of stately oaks. The soil was deep and fertile...Wildflowers there were in reckless profusion. In the distance, toward the rising sun, were seen the snow capped Sierras.”

In 1860, Bidwell helped lay out the town of Chico, which he named. Three years later, Governor Leland Stanford made him a brigadier general in the California State Militia.

A Great Statesman
From 1865 to 1866, Bidwell served California as its representative in the United States Congress. In the House of Representatives, he was a member of the House Agricultural Committee and introduced legislation that led to the completion of the California and Oregon Railroad. By 1870, the railroad’s tracks ran through his rancho and the town of Chico.

A Loving Partnership
While in Washington, D.C., Bidwell met Annie Ellicott Kennedy, the oldest daughter of his friend Joseph C.G. Kennedy, Superintendent of the U.S. Census. Miss Kennedy was 20 years Bidwell’s junior, but the two were like-minded on many issues. Neither John Bidwell nor Annie—as revealed through their extensive correspondence with one another—had ever envisioned themselves married, but each capitulated when love overcame them.

“Why is it that only one of all women I have ever seen fi lls the measure of all my earthly yearnings?” wrote John Bidwell to Annie Kennedy in March of 1867. “I care nothing for what the world call wealth and affluence. They have no charms for me without a tender being to share them with me. You have no idea of the influence which women exert in the world.”

The Bidwells were married in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 1868. During their long and happy marriage, they passionately supported both women’s voting rights and the prohibition movement.

The Bidwells at Home
John Bidwell had already begun work on his three-story, 26-room mansion on Rancho Chico before he met Annie. San Francisco architect Henry W. Cleaveland designed the grand house. Completed in 1868, it had running water, flush toilets, modern gas lights and an air cooling system.

A proponent of higher education, Bidwell donated eight acres of his cherry orchard in the 1880s for a teachers’ college called Chico State Normal School (later renamed California State University, Chico). Bidwell died in 1900. The Bidwells had no children, so Annie willed her home to her church to be used as a school. After Annie’s death in 1918, the Presbyterian Church was unable to fund the school. The Normal School bought the mansion in 1923. The Bidwells’ home was used as a dormitory and was later used as offices and classrooms. California State Parks acquired the mansion in 1964.

Displayed in the fully furnished home are both original and period pieces, including Mrs. Bidwell’s piano, local Native American baskets and the Bidwells’ eclectic library.

An Agricultural Eden
Until his death in 1900, Bidwell worked to build an agricultural showplace. Wheat and fl our production enabled Bidwell to finance ventures in specialty crops. He would harvest his gold-medal-winning wheat, grind it into fl our in his mill, and have the cook make it into biscuits the same day. He called his results “up-to-the-minute biscuits.”

Bidwell fostered the development of the casaba melon and produced California’s first commercial raisin crop. Almond and olive varieties bore his name. Many specimen trees he planted still stand, including a cockspur coral, a tulip tree, a Ginkgo biloba, Italian cypresses, a South American monkey puzzle and a huge Southern magnolia.
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