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Mansion of memories: the history of Bidwell Mansion (part eight)

Bidwell Mansion
Bidwell Mansion

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The left side of Bidwell Mansion
The left side of Bidwell MansionJena Savage

Bidwell Mansion and CSU, Chico

On March 10, 1918, Annie Ellicott Kennedy Bidwell died in Bidwell Mansion, eighteen years after the death of her beloved husband, John. Annie willed the mansion to the College Board of the Presbyterian Church, but just before her death, Annie gave Bidwell Park to the city of Chico, just as John had wished.

All of the furniture in the mansion was left to Annie’s grandniece because Annie and John never had any children. Annie’s grandniece sold many of the items to an antique dealer from San Francisco, and the townspeople took some of the other furniture. Today, only about thirty percent of the original furniture is still present in the mansion.

Because the church did not have enough money to run a coeducational school, the state acquired the mansion for ten thousand dollars and added it to the California State University, Chico campus in 1923. The mansion was first used as a girls’ dormitory. Alice Anderson and Mrs. Gail Paulson were the house mothers until 1926, when Miss Florence Ritchie became the house mother for two years. In the summer of 1927, a dining room was added to the north of the house, so all forty girls could eat together. Miss Gokey and Miss Rockwood were the succeeding house mothers, and in 1930, the screen was removed from the porches on the second floor to allow more light into the house.

By the fall of 1932, the mansion was being used for a boys’ dormitory. After two years, the house was left vacant for a whole semester. Then, in 1935, Miss Ritchie began a catering service in the mansion, and resided there with her daughter for eighteen months. Soon after, the entire Home Economics portion of the college held its classes there. At one time, the Art Department also moved into the mansion.

The Mansion Restoration Association (now the Bidwell Mansion Association) was formed in 1960, and on January 20, 1964, ownership of the mansion shifted from the college to the California Department of Beaches and Parks (now California State Parks).

Brianna ended our tour on the note that, beginning in 1966 and continuing until this very day, ongoing restoration of the mansion and its grounds has been taking place to correctly imitate the Bidwell era. When you take your tour of Bidwell Mansion, you will soon realize how much has gone into the renovation of the house of John and Annie Bidwell and what their lives were really like. The mansion is one place where one is able to escape from our modern world and back into time; you are able to feel what it was like to live in Chico more than a century ago.

For more info: Please visit the Bidwell Mansion Association's Facebook page.

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