A Visit to Chico in 1864

We get a glimpse of Chico in the 1860s from a profile of John Bidwell published in the San Jose Mercury on April 7th, 1864. It was written by John C. McPherson, whom Bancroft described as “a Scotchman of good education and considerable ability as a writer, although eccentric to the point of insanity” (!). McPherson came to California in 1848 and in later years wrote his “Reminiscences of Early Days.” He did not interview Bidwell for the profile, but he did visit Chico more than once and describes it in very complimentary, even flowery, terms.

The ranch is in the highest state of cultivation. The quantity of wheat alone produced on the undisposed portion of it belonging to the General is very great. It is all made into flour of the very best quality at his own mill, to which he can point with pride. The mill is propelled by water, which Chico amply affords throughout the year.

Two years ago or better, he laid out a town and which he named Chico. His fine private residence, with all the numerous office houses together with the mill is on the north, the town being on the southern side of the stream, which flows beautifully transparent and musically between.

The reference to “his fine private residence” is a good indication that Bidwell built a house after the adobe, but before the mansion, which was begun in 1865.

I was at Chico some 18 months ago, and not having heard that a town had been established there until 24 hours before arrival, I was certainly astounded at the appearance of the place, although fully aware of the enterprise of the man. It is well laid out, the streets running at right angles, and all was bustle and animation.

It contained some fine buildings of substantial character, and the capacious store of Bidwell & Co., even in point of architecture, would grace any city in the state. He did not forget a fine square, not the planting of trees, which perchance the coming sultry weather, may afford grateful shade to the denizens of the place, and I can well imagine in the calm evening hours, the quiet smoking of pipes, the discussions on the war, politics of the State and country and other topics receiving attention beneath those trees.

“the capacious store of Bidwell & Co.”

I should like to take a trip this Summer to the beautiful spot just to note the improvements, and probably shall.

J.C. McP., San Jose Mercury, 7 April 1864

Next time: McPherson on the Humboldt Wagon Road

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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