How the College Came to Chico

After several years of petitioning by citizens in northern California, the state legislature authorized a branch of the State Normal School to be built somewhere north of Marysville. As soon as they did so, every city, town and hamlet in the region began putting itself forward as the ideal location. Redding, Red Bluff, and Chico were the foremost contenders, but a number of other towns made their bids as well. Oroville, Gridley, Colusa, Willows, Orland, Old Shasta, and even Concow all joined in the contest.

In 1887 a Site Selection Committee made its way northward from Sacramento to inspect the various candidates. At each town they were welcomed lavishly with speeches, tours, banquets, and bands. In Chico their train was met by a committee of prominent citizens, but John Bidwell was not among them. He was on a trip to Washington, D.C., followed by a quick trip across the Atlantic to London. He kept in touch by telegraph.

Bidwell’s manager in Chico wired for instructions, and Bidwell replied: “I will give ten acres on the east side of the Shasta Road near Sandy Gulch.”  The Shasta Road is now the Esplanade, and Sandy Gulch is Lindo Channel, so the site he was proposing was about 2 miles north of his Mansion, at what is now 11th Ave.

The committee didn’t care for this site however, and his manager asked the General for further instructions. Bidwell wired back: “You may take anything on my farm but my dooryard.”

They came pretty close to the dooryard, which is why Bidwell Mansion sits on the edge of the Chico State campus today. They chose 8 acres of Bidwell’s cherry orchard, on the south side of Chico Creek, just west of his nursery. Today Bidwell Presbyterian Church  is located where the nursery once stood, and Trinity Hall sits on the site of the original Normal School building.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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