Historian W.H. 'Old Hutch' Hutchinson identified five events as the most seminal in Chico history. They were 1. The arrival of John Bidwell in 1850. 2. The arrival of the California and Oregon Railroad in 1870. 3. The establishment of the Northern Branch of the State Normal School in 1887. 4. The purchase of the Sierra Lumber Company by the Diamond Match Company in 1900 and 5. The development of the Army Air Base which is now the Chico Municipal Airport.2
Since then, several other seminal events have unfolded in Chico. These include: the construction and relocation of Highway 99E through town in the early sixties; Playboy Magazine naming Chico State the number one party school in the nation in 1987; and the establishment of a Greenline on the western city limits as protection of agricultural lands.
In two separate purchases in 1849 and 1851, Bidwell acquired the 28,000 acre Rancho del Arroyo Chico. He filed a claim for the land with the Public Land Commission in 1852, and the claim was confirmed the next year. After a subsequent legal challenge, the claim was confirmed by the US District Court for the Northern District in 1855, and eventually by the Supreme Court. The title patent was signed by President James Buchanan in 1860.
A treaty of "peace and friendship" was signed on September 18, 1853 between the Mechoopda, and other tribes of the area near Bidwell's Ranch; Indians at Reading's Ranch at Colusa; and tribes along the Cosumnes River and Yuba River rivers. United States Indian Agent O. M. Wozencraft represented the U.S. Government at Bidwell's Ranch.
The Butte Flume and Lumber Company built a flume from Butte Meadows down Big Chico Creek in 1872, completing it in 1874. This flume would supply the Diamond Match Company with lumber for its operations.
Chico was the starting point of the Koncow Trail of Tears also called the Nome Cult Trail. On August 28, 1863 all Konkow Maidu were to be at the Bidwell Ranch to be taken to the Round Valley Reservation at Covelo in Mendocino County. Any Indians remaining in the area were to be shot. 435 Maidu were rounded up and marched under guard west out of the Sacramento Valley and through to the Coastal Range. 461 Indians started the trek, 277 finished. They reached Round Valley on September 18, 1863.
The city became incorporated January 8, 1872.
In 1877, anti-Chinese riots erupted.
In 1887, the California legislature established the Northern Branch of the State Normal School of California. Chico was chosen as its site, and Bidwell donated land from his cherry orchard for this purpose. This school would come to be called the Chico Normal School, Chico State College, and finally California State University, Chico.
On July 10, 1905, Annie Bidwell signed a grant deed donating 1,902.88 acres to the people of Chico for a public park. These initial acres were expanded upon several times over the years, resulting in the creation of Bidwell Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the nation.
In 1917 the first parade that would later come to be called the Pioneer Day Parade was held on the downtown streets as a celebration of Senior Day. The tradition of a spring parade would continue as a celebration of local heritage under various names on the first Saturday in May each year, with the exception of the years 1990 through 1996. 3
In the late fifties and early sixties, the city wrestled with the controversial issue of creating a bypass for California State Route 99 through Bidwell Park. The Bidwell Park Viaduct was built 1963-65.4
On July 31, 1961 the first-ever hijacking on United States soil occurred at the Chico Municipal Airport. Two men were critically wounded and the hijacker was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.5
On May 24, 1962 two explosions destroyed a Titan I missile at the 851st Strategic Missile Squadron complex located north of the Chico Municipal Airport between Keefer Road and Cohasset Road. An oxygen valve had stuck open and a blocked vent caused the gas to build up until a spark ignited it. However, the potentially catastrophic event was overshadowed in the national news by the launch of Scott Carpenter into space.6 On June 6, trouble again struck as a flash fire in another silo killed a worker.
On April 22, 1970, students celebrating the first Earth Day on the Chico State campus pushed a car into West First Street (which was then State Route 32) blocking traffic. The street was closed temporarily for safety. The incident escalated into a demonstration that lasted into the night. The protesters were arrested on conspiracy charges which were later dropped. The street re-opened the next day, however it was permanently closed over the segment running through campus later that year.
On July 21, 1982, the Butte County Board of Supervisors approved an amendment to the 1979 Butte County Land Use Element of the Butte County General Plan with the purpose of preserving agricultural land. This amendment established a Greenline on the west side of Chico beyond which urban development would be restricted. This line is responsible for the continued existence of working orchards relatively close to the core of the growing city.
In 1987 Playboy Magazine named Chico State the "Number One party school" in the nation. University president Robin Wilson met with city officials including City Manager Fred Davis, and Police Chief, John Bullerjahn with the goal of ending the reputation by ending the parties directly with police force. On April 25, 1987 police riots broke out during the Pioneer Days celebration. President Wilson announced an end to the 70 year old tradition saying, he took Pioneer Days "out back and shot it in the head." The tradition was revived in 1996 and has continued to this day.78
In 1996 the recently re-elected city council member Ted Hubert died prior to being re-sworn in, and more significantly, before the selection of mayor had occurred. The evenly, and deeply divided council stalemated on the selection. This resulted in a rotating pro tempore system for about six months. The remaining six council members each took turns serving as meeting chair until they appointed Bill Johnston to fill the council vacancy, and Rick Keene mayor. See Historic roster of councilmembers.
In the years while the Pioneer Days celebration was canceled (1990-1996), the Halloween and St. Patrick's Day celebrations grew into much larger events. These holidays had always enjoyed a high rate of participation in Chico, due to its young population. However, with the loss of Pioneer Days, people's energy was redirected so as to make St. Patrick's Day and Halloween look more like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Mutual aid was invoked by police each year for several years.
In 2000 and 2001, the City closed downtown streets to accommodate the thousands of Halloween revelers. However, in 2002 the streets were no longer closed. The City even conducted a TV ad campaign telling people not to come downtown for Halloween. In response to the incidence of thrown bottles, and broken glass, the City Council has established a Glass Free Zone largely contiguous with the downtown and the South Campus Neighborhood. The Council activates the "Glass Free Zone" every Halloween and St. Patrick's Day and from time to time at the request of the police when they believe there will be a large gathering of revelers. Most recently, César Chávez Day was added to the growing list of holidays requiring such a response.
In 1999, the tower supporting the famous Diamond on top of the Senator Theatre at Fifth and Main was discovered to be leaning. It was determined to be at risk of collapse, and was removed. The tower was refurbished and put back in place in 2005.
In 2003, a branch from one of the majestic Siberian Elms planted in 1873 by John Bidwell in City Plaza fell and hit a person sitting on a bench. The incident prompted the removal of the trees, some of which had rotting roots. The city embarked on a renovation of City Plaza in 2005, and in November 2006, the newly renovated Chico City Plaza was re-opened.
In 2008, the Humboldt Fire burned over 70 structures east of Chico. It was one of several wildfires that broke out that summer and base operations was located at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds. See 2008 Wildfires for information on all of the fires that burned in the Chico area during 2008.
- City Council, for History of the City Council.
1. California: A History, Kevin Starr, 2005, pg. 62
2. Chico: A 20th Century Pictoral History (1995)
3. History of Pioneer Week & Pioneer Days at Chico State CA California
4. A Brief History Of Bidwell Park - Friends of Bidwell Park
5. Chico: A 20th Century Pictoral History
6. http://chicobeat.com/?q=ground_zero Chico Beat: Ground Zero
7. Pioneer Day Parade
8. University Archives - Bits and Pieces