The last field trip for my OLLI Historic Homes group last Thursday was to my favorite Victorian home, Stansbury House in Chico. I love Bidwell Mansion too, but it’s too grand for me to actually imagine living there. But I can imagine living in Stansbury House.
The house stands at the corner of Fifth and Salem Streets near downtown Chico. Built by Dr. Oscar Stansbury in 1883, it now belongs to the city of Chico. It is cared for by the Stansbury Home Preservation Association and is open for public tours Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. We were given a special tour by John Gallardo, who knows the house inside and out, having lived there as caretaker (oops — resident curator) for twenty years.
Dr. Stansbury was born in Mississippi in 1852 and received his medical degree in 1873. In 1875, at the request of his cousin, he came to Chico, California to take over his cousin’s medical practice. After two years he returned to Maryland to marry his fiancée, Libbie Manlove, and then brought her back to Chico. A few years later he inherited the money that allowed him to build an elegant home for his growing family. The Stansburys had three children, Middleton, Angeline, and Ellen.
Miss Angeline Stansbury never married. Her mother died in 1923, followed by her father in 1926. An art teacher at Chico High School for forty years, she continued to live in the home until her death on Christmas Day, 1974. She diligently preserved the pristine quality of her home and its furnishings, resulting in a model of Victorian life in Chico.
The house was designed by Sacramento architect, A.A. Cook, and is a classic example of Italianate Victorian—a style patterned after the sturdy square manor houses of the Italian countryside. Dr. Stansbury bought the quarter block on which the home was built for $1,000 and the 10-room house was constructed for just under $8,000.
The exterior of the house is a fine example of the elaborate style of decoration favored in the Victorian era. It incorporates beautifully molded and arched windows accented with carved rosettes at their peak, angled bay windows flanked by colonettes; entrance porches with slender fluted columns; carved balustrades and decorated pediments, all topped by bracketed cornices. Centered on the roof is a low decorative wrought iron fence.
The walls and ceilings of the home reward careful examination. Every surface is covered in wallpaper, imitation leather wainscoting, or ornamental plaster-work, all of it original. At every house we visited, I asked if the wallpaper was original, and it never was. It had either deteriorated to the point where it had to go, or it had been replaced during an earlier remodeling. It is highly unusual to see wallpaper that is over 100 years old.
Much of the paper has either darkened or faded though. Luckily, leftover pieces and rolls of wallpaper were found in the basement, so that our docent, John, was able to show us what the paper looked like when new.
Another highlight of the house is Dr. Stansbury’s medical office. He had an office downtown, but he also maintained a small office in his home, with a separate entrance. It contains his books and instruments, his examining chair (leather with silk fringe!), his roll-top desk, and his skeleton, a real one.
In 1976, the historic house was acquired by the City of Chico through donation by the Stansbury family heirs combined with partial purchase. It is presently open to the public under the auspices of The Stansbury Home Preservation Association, Inc., a community-wide non-profit organization.
Some information adapted from Stansbury Home Preservation Association website, http://www.stansburyhome.org/.