Have you ever wondered why we have a Vallombrosa Avenue in Chico?
“Vallombrosa” is the name that John and Annie Bidwell gave to the strip of land running along either side of Big Chico Creek. It was a landscape that they loved and wanted to preserve in its natural state. Later, when Annie Bidwell donated the land to the City of Chico, it became Bidwell Park. But the Bidwells never called it that; they always called it Vallombrosa.
I imagine it was Annie who came up with this poetical name, based on a line from Milton’s Paradise Lost. In the poem’s first book Milton compares the fallen angels to autumn leaves:
Angel Forms, who lay entranced
Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
In Vallombrosa, where th’ Etrurian shades
High over-arched embower . . .
And where is that original Vallombrosa? It was a Benedictine monastery about 20 miles south of Florence in the Apennine Mountains. Milton traveled to Italy in 1638 and visited Florence in September. When he saw Vallombrosa he was struck by the beauty of the thickly falling leaves and later immortalized the locale in Paradise Lost. The name Vallombrosa derives from the Latin for “shady valley,” vallis umbrosa.