History of Chico, California

Bidwell: A Name That Defines Generosity In Our Community

Bidwell: A Name That Defines Generosity In Our Community

The City of Chico was founded in 1860 by General John Bidwell. Sparked by the news of the Gold Rush, Bidwell was among the first covered wagon trains to California. He discovered gold on the Feather River and with his new found wealth, bought approximately 28,000 acres on both sides of Chico Creek called Rancho Del Arroyo Chico.

Bidwell opened the first store in Chico located on the corner of First and Main streets in the current Tres Hombres Restaurant building. He was also responsible for the layout of Chico's streets in what is now the Downtown and nicknamed Chico the "City of Roses" because of the many rose varieties he introduced.

John Bidwell was a congressman in Washington, and in 1868 married Annie Ellicott Kennedy, the daughter of a prominent Washington D.C. family. They made Chico their permanent home and begin building what we know today as Bidwell Mansion. In the late 1800s, it was the center of social and political life in the upper Sacramento Valley. Some of the special guests included President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, General William T. Sherman, Susan B. Anthony, Francis Willard, Governor Leland Stanford, John Muir, Asa Gray, and Sir Joseph Hooker.

The Bidwell’s took great pride in beautifying the City of Chico, which was incorporated in 1872. They were willing to donate land to anyone willing to build a house, church or other public structure in order to develop a quality community. In 1887, there was a possibility of a new state teacher’s college being built in the area. In his spirit of generosity, Bidwell donated part of his land to secure the school’s location in Chico. The school was named Chico Normal School and evolved into California State University, Chico.

The Bidwell’s left their footprints in many areas of Chico, but their legacy was left in the form of Bidwell Park. In 1905, five years after John Bidwell’s death, Annie Bidwell signed a grant deed donating over 1,900 acres to the people of Chico for a public park. Today, Bidwell Park contains 3,670 acres and is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States.

  • Chico is home to Cold War-era missile silos. The silos, intended for Titan missiles, were built near the Chico airport during the early 1960s and were dismantled and abandoned in 1965.
  • Warner Street is named after the Warner Bros. movie studio. After the movies The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and scenes from Gone with the Wind (1939) were filmed in Bidwell Park, the city renamed the north part of Ivy Street in the studio’s honor.
  • Chico has been designated as a Tree City USA for 26 years by the Arbor Day Foundation.
  • Bicycle Magazine named Chico "America's Best Bike Town" in 1997.
  • Chico is home to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. In November 1980, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. brewed the first batch Pale Ale, the second best-selling craft beer in the United States, behind the Boston Beer Company's Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
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