Chico is located in Northern California, 90 miles north of Sacramento along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. In 1849, General John Bidwell purchased the 22,000 acre Rancho Arroyo Chico Mexican land grant and planted wheat in the rich soils of the Central Valley. The wheat was milled into flour and sold to miners in the foothills and shipped southeast to the frontlines during the Civil War era. Amid dabbling in the political arena and harvesting his wheat, Bidwell laid out the Town of Chico and began selling lots to settlers in 1862.
Many of the early Chicoans speculated in large mining operations to the east or farms to the west while others built stores for goods and services downtown. Land was donated for churches and schools and within a decade, most of the lots had been sold. Clashes between miners and farmers were commonplace as sediments freed from hydraulic mining operations caused rivers to breach their banks and flood farmland. When hydraulic mining was initially outlawed in 1884 and the easily accessible gold had become scarce, the Gold Rush that had brought so many to California was over.
Logging operations dotted the foothills near Chico to supply lumber to the gold fields but little infrastructure was in place to get the timber to the mills or the lumber to market. It wasn’t until the Diamond Match Company came to Chico just after the turn of the century that logging operations began in earnest. Flumes brought the logs down the mountains to the mills and railroads took the boards to market. Prosperity continued for nearly nine decades until increasing regulations, decreasing supply and emerging international markets brought operations to a close in 1989.
In 1981, a grassroots organization of volunteers and concerned citizens formed the Chico Heritage Association in direct response to the threatened demolition of a historic building in downtown Chico. For the next two years, through the help of a grant from the California State Historic Preservation Office and the City of Chico, the Chico Heritage Association inventoried over 250 features throughout the city to identify historic properties that might be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The survey identified a 23 block cluster of properties in the South Campus Neighborhood, which was later nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and is the project area for this study. Demolition permits continued to be authorized throughout the city until 1998 when the Historic Landmark Overlay Zone was established to enforce a demolitions permit review process for any structures threatened within the zone. Finally in 2009, the Chico City Council authorized the Historic Preservation Program, which includes the adoption of the Cultural Resources and Historic Preservation Element of the 2030 General Plan, the development of the Historic Preservation Ordinance, and the creation of a Historic Preservation Board.
Today Chico is primarily known as a college town, home to California State University at Chico since the land was donated for its construction in 1887. Chico’s tree-lined streets, favorable weather conditions and small town appeal have made it the college of choice for San Francisco Bay Area natives for decades. Chico’s charm is tied to its history and generations have worked hard to keep that record intact. Taking a stroll through the older neighborhoods in Chico is a refreshing walk back in time, covered by giant sycamores and flanked by colonial revivals. So go ahead and a take a virtual stroll through Chico's oldest residential neighborhood. For information about the historic resources included in this project, click on the Resources tab otherwise just head straight over to the Map, read the instructions and start clicking. Enjoy.