Vallombrosa

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 . . .

Photo of Bidwell Park in autumn by Anthony Dunn

Photo of Bidwell Park in autumn by Anthony Dunn

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.

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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5 Responses to Vallombrosa

  1. Rodney Dean Cooper, Jr. says:

    Gee Nancy, What about the Mechoopda? What did they call it?

    • nancyleek says:

      Good question. Vallombrosa is what the Bidwells called the “shady valley” along Chico Creek when all the rest of the ranch was given over to wheat and cattle and orchards. The Mechoopda might not have had a name for that strip of land, but they probably did have a name for Chico Creek. I wonder who knows what it was?

  2. Rodney Dean Cooper, Jr. says:

    My cousin, who grew up in Chico, says that Chico Creek is a diversion from 5 mile which normally empties into the Rio Lindo Channel.

  3. Rodney Dean Cooper, Jr. says:

    I think you’re right. And another correction, It’s “Lindo Channel”.

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