I just came across this book today: Romantic Cities of California, by Hildegarde Hawthorne, with illustrations by E. H. Suydam, published in 1939 by D. Appleton-Century Co. It is a tour of the towns and cities of California, all up and down the state from San Diego to Weaverville. I wouldn’t have thought of all these towns as romantic (I’m looking at you, Bakersfield), but I guess you can’t sell a travel book by calling it Romantic and Not-So-Romantic Cities of California.
Of course I was curious what the author had to say about the town where I live — Chico. What did Chico look like to a visitor in 1939?
Most of the chapter is taken up with her telling about how John Bidwell came to California, and what he did after he got here, as published in The Century Magazine back in 1889. That’s a good story, but doesn’t tell you much about Chico. Finally she gets to the town:
We ought to get back to Chico, which today is the county-seat (it isn’t and wasn’t) and chief city of Butte, however, and where the big stone house with its wide verandahs and galleries and its square tower still remains the Bidwell family mansion. It was erected in the middle part of the sixties, near the creek that still runs shining through the grounds . . .
She mentions Bidwell Park “the vast city recreation center,” the Hooker Oak, and the United States Governmental Experimental Garden. Her paragraphs on the city of Chico say:
The Chico of today is a solidly built, prosperous, lovely city with plenty of room and a consuming pride in its rose gardens, which are numerous and in which roses of every possible variety flourish and bloom almost the whole year through, certainly in every month of the year. It is primarily built and planted to be a city in which it is good to live.
Its lumbering interests, that range from the making of matches up through anything you might want for building a house or a boat or any other wooden structure, are the chief of its industries, but it, like other towns and cities scattered up and down the valleys of these rivers which were once only interesting because of the gold you got out of them, is also an agricultural center.
Not is education left out of the sum. Chico State College is a handsome collection of dignified brick buildings that make a very handsome and stately group centered by a really glorious tower. Its high school is a beauty. (Alas, that high school building is gone.) And you feel that it is a city beloved by those who live in it, who cherish its appearance, who enjoy its broad esplanade, the wide, tree-planted principal street, its cleanliness and homeliness, in the old sense of the word. Chico is proud of the old pioneer who was its father, and General John Bidwell could be proud of it today.
She doesn’t give statistics, but for your information, Chico in 1940 had a population of 9,287. That’s only a little bigger than Orland today. It must have been a charming place. Today Chico is ten times larger than it was when Hildegarde Hawthorne visited it.
(By the way, when I typed “Weaverville” in the first paragraph, WordPress didn’t recognize the word. Its suggestion? “Versailles.” A bit of difference there, even if it shares a few letters.)