Chico: In the Shadow of the Sierras
In 1849, one of the first wagon trains arrived in the Sacramento Valley. On board was General John Bidwell, founder of Chico, CA. He, like so many others in the mid-19th century was drawn by the lure of gold. Unlike so many others, he actually found it. After discovering gold on the Feather River, he used the proceeds to buy 28,000 acres along Chico Creek, called Rancho del Arroyo. John Bidwell and his family became stewards and caretakers for the city, nurturing it through careful city planning, generous donations and political savvy.
As such, the Bidwells are responsible for a great number of the notable aspects of Chico. In addition to providing the original layout of the streets and building its first storefront, Bidwell also introduced a number of different varieties of roses. This led to the city’s nickname, “City of Roses,” which appears on the city’s seal. Bidwell and his wife also constructed the gorgeous Bidwell mansion, the center of political influence in the Sacramento Valley during the 19th century. Bidwell was very concerned with the success of the area. To that regard, he offered to donate land to anyone willing to build a house, church or other structure in Chico. The Bidwell family also donated nearly 2,000 acres of land to the city of Chico for a public park, appropriately called Bidwell Park. The park now makes up over 15% of the city’s area. The Bidwells also donated land to secure the location of a state teacher’s college in Chico, which later became California State University, Chico.
Chico is located at the northeast edge of Sacramento Valley, west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The area is blessed with a Mediterranean climate and some of the most fertile soil on Earth.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, the second best-selling craft beer brand in America, was founded in Chico in 1979 by Paul Camusi and Ken Grossman. The company is best known for its IPA, or India Pale Ale, a hoppy and intensely flavorful beer. The brewery was named the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Green Business of the Year” in 2010. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company obtains all its energy through solar power. In addition, the company provides charging stations for electric vehicles and converts its cooking oil for use in the company’s trucks. They have instituted a zero-waste policy – and, through various means including reduction, reuse and recycling, divert 99.5 percent of solid waste from landfill. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is highly praised by critics and beer drinkers alike, and have won dozens of awards.
Chico is also home to several large, now-defunct missile silos. These silos were installed in 1960 and housed Titan 1 rockets. The base became operational in 1962, but quickly ran into problems. Just one month after the site became active, an explosion disabled one of the rockets. Later that year, a fire killed a silo worker. After those damages were repaired, at a total cost upward of 1 million, the base became operational again – but not for long. The Defense Department cancelled the Titan missile program in 1964 and the missiles located at Chico were taken off active alert. The silos then became bait for thrill seekers, intent on exploring the abandoned Cold War-era silos. These days, the site is privately owned and is closed to the public.
Since 1993, Chico has also played host to the National Yo-Yo Contest. The contest brings hundreds of competitors from across the country and attracts scores of spectators. The event is held on the first Saturday of October in Downtown Chico.
Modern Chico is a city that would surely warm the heart of its founder, John Bidwell. He and his family devoted their lives and donated much of their legacy to the city, and Chico is more notable for it. With a Mediterranean climate, fertile soil, beautiful scenery, massive park system, gorgeous historical buildings and some of the best craft beer on the planet, Chico is a city that has something for everyone!