December 19 –January 13
As it was a relatively short three-hour drive to Chico and check-in wasn’t until later in the afternoon, we joined Jessica for breakfast at one of our favorite joints in Berkeley, Sconehenge. I’ve written often of this place so won’t belabor how good the food is and will just leave it at we had another fine meal there.
The drive to Chico went smoothly, arriving around 2pm and with time to kill before check-in, made our way to Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park. It was the home of General John Bidwell and Annie Bidwell from late 1868 until 1900, when Bidwell died, Annie continuing to live there until her death in 1918. Construction of the mansion on his 26,000 acres Rancho del Arroyo Chico began in 1865, and after his marriage to Annie in 1868, the three story, 26 room Victorian house became the social and cultural center of the upper Sacramento Valley.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion was a $60,000 project. When constructed, it featured modern plumbing, gas lighting and water systems. The three-story brick structure is built in an informally romantic version of the Italianate style. It also has aspects of the Italian Villa and Octagon house types present. The building’s exterior is finished with a pink tinted plaster.
From 1925-1935, Bidwell Mansion was once again transformed into another entity when it served as a dormitory for Chico State Teachers College students. It is mentioned by local historians that the students studied and dressed in the rooms, but actually slept outside on the surrounding verandas. The mansion was later dubbed “Bidwell Hall” and housed the Art and Home Economics departments.
Bidwell was known throughout California and nationally as a pioneer, farmer, soldier, statesman, politician, prohibitionist, and philanthropist. He was active in the Democratic and then Republican parties and was elected to Congress as a Republican in 1864, serving one term. He is noted for having led one of the first emigrant parties, known as the Bartleson–Bidwell Party, along the California Trail, and for founding Chico, California. He received Mexican land grants after becoming a Mexican citizen before the Mexican American War and became a wealthy rancher.
As luck would have it, the mansion itself was closed that day and thus we spent an hour or so in the adjacent visitor center which features the history of Bidwell, the Mansion, and the city of Chico. From there we drove a short distance to one end of the very large Bidwell Park, which we learned about in an episode of Huell Howser’s California’s Golden Parks on PBS.
It was established in 1905 through a donation by Annie Bidwell of approximately 2,500 acres. Since that time the city has purchased additional land, such as Cedar Grove in 1922, and 1,200 acres of land south of Big Chico Creek in upper Bidwell Park in 1995. Today, the total Park size is 3,670 acres, nearly 11 miles in length, making it the third largest municipal park in California and is one of the largest city parks in the United States.
Bidwell Park is “divided” into Upper/Middle and Lower Parks, the principal difference being their terrain. Upper Park is located in the foothills of the southernmost Cascades and has steep terrain contains many rock formations. Lower Park is flat and level and contains our next stop, the Sycamore Pool, located in the One Mile Recreation Area.
The pool was constructed in the late 1920s and provides a unique swimming experience because its concrete decks, walls, and bottom are built to contain Big Chico Creek as it flows through the park. A dam and fish ladder at one end allow control of the creek’s flow. Locals often refer to Sycamore Pool simply as One Mile.
Our original plan was to meet Rhonda, a good friend of Kim’s, at Sierra Nevada at 6:00 pm for dinner but while lingering at the pool we received a message from her that a family matter had arisen and she would need to cancel. Given this change, we decided to just head over to the brewery earlier than planned, the residual benefit being we’d have more time to drink beer.
For the uninitiated, the brewery was established in 1979 by home-brewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi in Chico and as of 2016 it is the seventh-largest brewing company in the United States and is the third largest privately-owned brewery in the United States. In early 2014, they opened a second brewing facility, a LEED-Platinum-certified building with an attached restaurant in Mills River, North Carolina, just outside Asheville.
This forested tract adjacent to Asheville Regional Airport re-used the cut-down trees as lumber both in the building and for the rainwater cisterns that flush the toilets. And in 2013, the company opened the “Torpedo Room” in Berkeley, their first tasting room outside of Chico. As we arrived early, we were seated almost immediately, a stroke of good fortune as we would discover when leaving and hour or so later to find a long line waiting to get in.
First up Joanna ordered a flight and I the Barrel Aged Torpedo, an 8.6% version of their well-known IPA that has been aged for ten years. For food we split an order of the Sausage Trio and one of the Fish and Chips, both delicious and perfectly accompanied by my second beer, the Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA, weighing in at 9% with notes of mango, melon and citrus from its five hop varieties. It was quite good.
We settled our tab, $66.39 including tip, and threaded our way out of the crowded reception area and made the relatively short drive back to our lodging for the night, the Best Western Heritage Inn where we’d checked in earlier. It had been a good day on the road, relaxing and yet full of sights, completed by good food and drink. We slept well that night.
Bidwell Mansion SP: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=460
Bidwell Park: http://ccnaturecenter.org/
Sierra Nevada: https://sierranevada.com/