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John Bidwell Builds Mansion, Helps Plat and Name Chico, Calif.

The Bidwell Mansion State Park covers nearly 20 percent of the city of Chico.  The park brochure says the three-story, 26-room mansion “embodies a great love story—of a man for his land and for his wife, and of the couple’s mutual love for … California.”

John Bidwell was one of the first pioneers to cross the Sierra Nevada into California.  He discovered gold on his ranch in 1848, the same year the Sutter’s Mill strike led to California’s 1849 gold rush. 

In 1860, Bidwell helped plan and named the town of Chico, some 40 miles southeast of Red Bluff.  He was a brigadier general in the state militia, and as California’s congressional representative introduced legislation that completed the California and Oregon Railroad that ran through his 27,000-acre ranch and Chico.

He began building the mansion in 1865 and married Annie Kennedy three years later.  Their home became the social and cultural center of the upper Sacramento Valley.

From 1925-1935, the mansion served as a dormitory for Chico State Teachers College students, and later housed art and home economics departments. 

It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972.

Source: "Bidwell Mansion Historic State Park." California State Parks. 2009. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. http://bidwellmansionpark.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Bidwell-Mansion-SHP-Brochure.pdf.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.