I was glad to see this article in today’s Chico Enterprise-Record about the historic significance of the Esplanade. Amy Huberland, an archeologist and the assistant coordinator for the Northeast Information Center at Chico State, is calling attention to the need to proceed carefully when dealing with a road that has historical significance, not only for Chico, but for all of northern California.
Today’s Esplanade is based on the Marysville-Shasta Road that dates from the Gold Rush, if not earlier. When John Bidwell and Peter Lassen first came this way, the road was no more than a faint track, based on native trails and the trails of the fur-trappers. There is a good map accompanying the Chico E-R article.
By the time Rancho Chico was established it was a busy road. It ran along side the Feather River as far as Hamilton, and then struck out across the valley in a northwest direction, headed for Red Bluff on the Sacramento River. Travelers could stop at Neal’s Ranch or Bidwell’s Ranch along the way for refreshment and information.
D.F. Crowder, who came to Chico in 1856 at the age of twelve, described it this way:
There was no bridge across Chico creek but there was a ford near where the present bridge now stands. The Shasta trail, now the Shasta road, lead off almost due north as it does now and it was black with immigrants — just like ants, coming and going. Some had ox teams, some were afoot and others drove mules. I don’t remember ever seeing a burro at that time.
This was the road that became the Esplanade, and later Highway 99. It ran right through the middle of Rancho Chico. In the 1890s John Bidwell began to develop the road with an eye toward selling off lots along the road. He planted rows of trees along the broad track of the Shasta Road to mark off lanes for carriages, wagons, riders, and pedestrians. He doesn’t say much about this project in his diary, but he referred to it in this entry for March 31, 1891:
Wife drove with me this A.M.- Laid out lines on W. side Esplanade for road
Although some changes are necessary to keep the Esplanade safe and effective in the 21st century, I hope we can keep its historic character in mind as changes are planned.