Getting Lost in History: Museums of Butte County
By: Sean Longoria
A glimpse of the museum’s in Butte County, offering a look into the current attractions and offerings.
You walk up the brick-red colored staircase shaped like an upside-down letter Y, through two sets of doors and face a decision. To your left is a live, encased honeycomb with a queen bee busily scurrying amid thousands of worker bees. To right, a gallery of posters, pictures and pottery all relating to bees.
Just down the Esplanade is a Victorian-style mansion built in the 1860s. If you go inside, you’ll find a hidden third floor that was originally designed as a ballroom, which you couldn’t see from the outside.
Next to the mansion, you can meet the creatures that live in your backyard. Depending on your timing, you may even eat a few. Relax, they’re good protein.
All of this and more can be found in the museums of Butte County. Chico, Paradise and Oroville contain museums that highlight the unique history of the county and examine cultures from around the world.
One of the most visible historical sites for Chico’s history is Bidwell Mansion, located right next to Chico State. The mansion was home to John and Annie Bidwell, the founding family of Chico.
Inside, visitors will find a combination of authentic and replicated artifacts, including the Bidwell’s original library, which is kept sealed behind glass to preserve the books and keep them from drastic climate changes.
In the main hall there is life-size portrait of John Bidwell, whose eyes and right foot follow visitors as they move throughout the first floor of the mansion using an artistic technique known as vanishing point perspective. It’s a little creepy.
Contrary to a popular belief that the mansion was built for his wife, John Bidwell was a bachelor when he built it for entertaining purposes, tour guide Derrick McGaugh will tell you as he leads you through the
Tours of the mansion take about 50 minutes to complete and are open from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 11 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, according to the mansion’s Web site. The Visitor Center features additional displays and merchandise and is open one hour longer than the mansion.
For information on pricing and location, visit the museum’s Web site.
The Visitor Center and first floor of the mansion are completely handicapped accessible, McGaugh said. The second and third floors are available to those with disabilities via video tours in the Visitor Center.
On the other side of Chico State lies the Chico Museum, which has been open since 1986, said Melinda Rist, museum manager. The building was constructed in 1904 and housed the Carnegie Library before becoming a museum.
Currently the museum houses “The Secret World of Bees,” an exhibit highlighting Richard Marple Beekeeping History and Art Collection, featuring a wide collection of art and artifacts relating to bees.
Marple’s obsession with bees began as a boyhood hobby that followed him wherever he went, Rist said. He donated his collection to the Far West Heritage Association – owners of the Chico Museum – in February.
In addition to Marple’s collection, visitors will find a live beehive, complete with a queen bee and thousands of workers and exhibits that display the wide use of bees and honey, including honey wine, a product of the local Honey Run Winery.
The museum also features an extensive timeline of several periods of Chico’s history, ranging from 1830 to 2000. The Mechoopda, who inhabited the area prior to its settlement by Americans of European descent, are also featured in this section.
One of the most striking features of the Mechoopda exhibit is a photo of a clearing in the woods that the Mechoopda inhabited, which looks as though no human or animal had ever set foot or paw on it. The trees are intact, the grass overgrown and there no visible sign of contact with the industrialized world.
The museum has a wheelchair lift on the north side for those who can’t make it up the front staircases, Rist said. Information on hours and prices can be found at the museum’s Web site.
One of several museums at Chico State, the Museum of Anthropology has been open since 1970 offering patrons a chance to learn about cultures outside of Chico, said Adrienne Scott, museum curator.
“As we look at others, we learn more about ourselves,” Scott said.
Part of the museum’s mission is to train students who are interested in a career in museums and to increase respect and appreciation of many human cultures, according to the mission statement.
The single room of the museum, though creatively separated by displays and room dividers, currently features “Living on Top of the World: Arctic Adaptation, Survival and Stewardship,” an exhibit containing artifacts from Arctic civilizations, including an eight-foot stuffed polar bear, whose towering stature and open mouth full of sharp teeth can still evoke a sense of fear.
“Living on Top of the World: Arctic Adaptation, Survival and Stewardship” will run until July 29, at which point the museum will close until September, Scott said.
The next exhibit will be the American Visions Photography Competition and Exhibition, with a “windspired” theme, taken from the Book in Common for 2010-2011, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, she said.
For location and hours, visit the museum’s Web site.
The Gateway Science Museum is another of Chico State’s museum offerings. Though opened just this year, the museum can trace its beginnings to 1993, according to a timeline on the museum’s Web site.
One exhibit, titled “Backyard Monsters, ” was recently celebrated with a “Crunch Brunch,” where museum employees and Chico State students baked cookies, brownies and other sweets with mealworms as a primary ingredient, according to a March 31 article from The Orion. Patrons were invited to sample the worm-ridden treats and vote for their most and least favorite offerings.
For information on pricing, hours and scheduled closures, visit the museum’s Web site.
Sick of hearing about the Bidwells and the California Gold Rush? The Chinese Temple and Museum Complex in Oroville may be the spot for you.
Built in 1863, the temple was originally constructed to serve the Chinese population north of Sacramento and still serves as an active temple for occasional worship, according to the museum’s Web site.
The temple complex also includes a display of Chinese tapestries, parasols and a comparison of Chinese and American costumes representing the period from 1850 to 1930. The garden features bamboo planted in the 1860s and a Lace Bark Pine tree.
Information on hours, pricing and location can be found at the museum’s Web site.
The Pioneer History Museum in Oroville and the Gold Nugget Museum in Paradise both offer insight into the native cultures that existed in the region.
The Pioneer History Museum has an Indian artifacts display, which features a large collection of arrowheads and baskets, according to the museum’s Web site, which contains information on hours, location and pricing.
A brief glimpse into Maidu culture is offered through the Gold Nugget Museum, which features Maidu artifacts and a replica of a Maidu woman, according to the museum’s Web site. There is also a 10-foot high cedar teepee as part of Nuggetville, the museum’s outdoor recreation of a gold rush town.
The museum’s Web site also contains location, hours and pricing information.
It’s impossible to visit all of these museums – and the many others in Butte County – in a single day, but don’t let this discourage you. Every museum in the area has something unique to offer and the journey itself will be your reward.