The Mansion

“Chico is not without its places of interest. When the building is completed the town will contain one of the finest private residences on the Pacific coast, which is now being erected by the Hon. John Bidwell.” – Marysville Daily Appeal, May 27, 1866

Standing in the heart of the city of Chico, Bidwell Mansion stands as a tangible legacy of John and Annie Bidwell. Completed in 1868, the luxurious mansion would have been one of the most elaborate and modern houses of its time in northern California, reflecting the status and influence of these two significant Californians. Today, it represents one of the finest examples of early Victorian-era architecture still standing in California. Restored to the 1868-1900 historic period, the mansion is now operated by California State Parks as a house museum, allowing the public to come interact with a piece of their history.

Earlier Buildings

Bidwell Mansion proved to be a substantial step up in living conditions for John Bidwell. Up until then, Bidwell had spent most of his life on the frontier and living in relatively primitive lodgings. After his arrival in California in 1841, for the most part he lived and worked in places associated with John Sutter, such as Fort Ross, Sutter’s Fort, and Hock farm. By the later part of the decade he was branching out on his own and established himself independent of Sutter.

Building Bidwell Mansion

All known evidence points to the “Old Adobe” serving as John Bidwell’s primary residence from 1852 until the completion of Bidwell Mansion. By the 1860s, this arrangement appears to have become unacceptable to John and his refined ambitions. John was interested in leaving behind the wild days of the 1840s and 50s, and becoming a respectable member of Victorian society. He appears to have begun planning for the mansion in the early 1860s, although not much is known about this process. It appears that construction was well underway in late 1865, when John, while on a trip to Washington D.C., wrote one of his contacts in Chico about information regarding the “new house.” Construction did not wrap up until 1868, a period that corresponds to many important changes in John’s life. John’s term in Congress between 1865 and 1867 certainly dragged out the construction time of the home. Strained finances, due to John’s extended absence and investments in other projects, also played a role in halting completion of the home.

A Living Home

Annie Bidwell in the main hall of the mansion, c. 1907.

Annie Bidwell in the main hall of the mansion, c. 1907.

In 1868 John and Annie returned from their wedding in Washington D.C. and took up residence in the new home. Together they resided in the home for the next thirty-two years. Throughout that time the home underwent various changes, modifications, and updates. Both of the Bidwells’ diaries note constant work being done to the home. One September 29, 1873, for example, John notes in his diary that, “Hopkins began painting house.” On September 5, 1891 he noted, “Mansion roof finished – but the veranda has to be repaired.” For the rest of their lives, the Bidwells continued to make changes to the home, including updating the plumbing and lighting systems in the home. Following John Bidwell’s death in 1900, beginning with Annie Bidwell and continuing throughout ownership by the college and CSP, Bidwell Mansion underwent many changes and additions.

After the Bidwells

In 1914 Annie Bidwell donated 24.72 acres, including the mansion, to the College Board of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America to be used as a co- educational Christian school after her death. Soon after Annie’s death in 1918, the Presbyterian Church determined it would not be cost effective to establish and upkeep the mansion as a school and in 1922 sold the mansion and 10.21 acres for $10,000 to be used as a dormitory for the then Chico State Teachers College.