An 1888 article in The Resources of California describes General John Bidwell’s Mansionas “the gem of California”, in these terms,
The Bidwell Mansion stands central on Rancho Chico, and adjoins the city, on Chico Creek, in the midst of two hundred acres of orchard and ornamental grounds, with the gardens, conservatory, deer park, choice fruit and flower gardens. Nothing can excel the loveliness and charming beauty of these mansion grounds, as there has been nothing wanting in intelligence, art, science, refinement, good taste and money, to make it the gem of California. The mansion was commenced in 1865 and completed in 1868, just prior to the General’s marriage. It is 51 by 54 feet, besides kitchen, etc. It has three hundred feet of wide veranda surrounding the lower story with a wide piazza over the carriage drive, similar to that of the White House in Washington. Mr. H. W. Cleveland, noted of New York, was the architect.
In 1849, at the age of thirty, he was chosen a member of the first Constitutional Convention of California at Monterey, then the Capital. The same year he was elected to the Senate of the first Legislature of California. In 1850 he was appointed one of the Commissioners, by Governor Burnett, to convey to Washington City, the block of gold-bearing quartz, as California’s contribution to The Washington Monument. In 1855 he was again a candidate for the State Senate. In 1863, he was appointed by Governor – and now U.S. Senator, Leland Stanford, to command the Fifth Brigade, California Militia, serving till the close of the Civil War. In 1864, he was a delegate to the Baltimore National Convention, which re-nominated President Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency. In the same year, he was nominated and elected to the thirty-ninth Congress. Two years later, he tendered a re-nomination, but declined. In 1875, he was nominated for Governor of California on the Anti monopoly or Non-partisan State ticket. April 4, 1888, he was chosen to preside at the State Prohibition Convention.
General Bidwell’s Domestic Life
A devotedly Christian gentleman – a strong temperance man – abstemious in all his habits, commanding the respect of all who know him, he is humble, simple, and loving as a child. Tender, kind and benevolent to a fault, he has often made the people of the city of Chico glad, by his public acts of charity, and liberal contributions, and his private acts in individual cases, in relieving the wants of the poor and unfortunate ones, which he seems to be always looking for, can be numbered by the hundreds. He is a Presbyterian, always refusing all official positions in the church, he has been the father of his church, and for many years was Superintendent of the Sunday school therein, since which he has conducted an interesting class of young men. He is methodical in his habits, prompt in his appointments, certain to fill his engagements, exacting the same from others, and devotes a certain portion of the time to office work in his large and beautiful office in his mansion; another portion to the business office in the city, only a few hundred yards distant, in which his book-keeper, cashier and clerks are employed; another portion in visiting his various farms, or divisions of industry, into which his mammoth ranch is subdivided; another portion in entertaining his numerous guests; another, in literary pursuits, never omitting the greater duties of husband and proprietor of one of the most magnificent and charming homes to be found in this country.
General Bidwell’s Benefactions
General Bidwell has acquired the sobriquet of “The Father of Chico.” When he laid out the City of Chico, on his Rancho Chico, he donated wide streets, blocks of ground for public parks and ornamented them with trees, etc.; lots for church and educational purposes and has since contributed largely, in many ways to build up this pretty “City of Roses.”
The Presbyterian Church
In the early history of Chico, the Presbyterians wanted to erect a church. The Trustees got up a subscription paper.When completed, the edifice cost about$16,000, Bidwell paying all the bills except the $2,500 subscribed, thus giving$13,500 besides the lot on which the handsome brick church stands.
Chico State Forestry Station
When the State Forestry Commission desired a site for a Forestry Station in Northern California upon which to experiment, General Bidwell stepped forward with his accustomed promptness, and donated to the State thirty-seven acres of exceedingly rich alluvial land, a portion of it covered with native trees, near Chico Creek, about one and a half miles from his mansion and the City of Chico. It is a very beautiful tract.
Northern State Branch Normal School
The John Bidwell Memorial Window
A magnificent stained-glass window, situated in prominence within the foyer of the Bidwell Presbyterian Church, has the following inscription:
The Indian Village
After her beloved husband’s death in 1900, Annie E.K. Bidwell continued their great work for Christ, as the original Minutes of the Chico Presbyterian Church testify. Her diary entry reads, “Enter this solemn record, that at 2:30 this PM, my Beloved left us for his home with God, and so suddenly and peacefully that we knew not that he was leaving us…” She continued faithfully sponsoring, helping, teaching, nurturing and protecting the Mechoopda tribe at the Indian Village on Rancho Chico, a few minutes’ walk from the Bidwell mansion. In 1905, she deeded this land – about 28 acres, for the permanent use of the Indian residents.
A 1907 article in the Chico Record gives an eye-witness account of Annie Bidwell’s admirable work among the Mechoopda Indians:
The education of the Indians was the big problem that confronted Mrs. Bidwell when she arrived in 1868 and that she succeeded admirably is a lasting tribute to her long labors and persistence. The men at this time could speak a little English, they having acquired this by association with the whites, but the women and children were unable to converse in the language at all. In 1875 the first work of instructing the men, women and children was begun, school being held in the General’s office in front of the present mansion…School was held three times a week and the Indians learned rapidly considering the obstacles they had to overcome. This good work was continued for some time under the personal supervision and instruction of Mrs. Bidwell, until later years when the children were allowed to attend the public schools. That the gradual training of the people has been a benefit is evinced at the present time, for there are now a number of Indian pupils in the public schools and one of the young ladies for a time attended the Chico State Normal. The religious education of the Indians was not neglected and at an early date a rude chapel was erected near the present Bidwell mansion. Here they were taught to read the Bible and instructed in the Christian morals. The first chapel soon became too small and in 1878 the present one was erected at Indian Village, where the Indians had been given grounds for their homes, at their own request, and Mrs. Bidwell became their pastor, conducting services in the chapel, which was crowded to the doors each Sunday… 2
To learn more, click here.
The Resources of California. San Francisco, 1888.
Chico Record. Special Edition, June, 1907.