Rich History Chronicled at Chico Museum
By Al Rocca
Preserving the Past
Story and photos by Al Rocca
Situated close to Chico State University in the downtown district, the Chico Museum offices and exhibits are housed in the historic Andrew Carnegie Library. The mission of the museum is to provide a “history of Chico for the education and enjoyment of the community.” The motto holds true as one climbs the concrete staircase at the entrance of the building. Once inside, a receptionist greets guests and offers a variety of informational pamphlets explaining the current exhibits and other historic sites and organizations in the Chico area, such as the Patrick Ranch and the Chico Air Museum.
Recent exhibits have highlighted historic hotels: the Chico Hotel, Park Hotel and The Hotel Oaks. Each establishment contained unique artifacts, and on display a visitor can see old hotel keys, photos of the hotel through the years, ashtrays, matchbooks, newspaper articles and silverware from the hotel kitchen. As you peruse the exhibit, you can appreciate the grand nature of the building – its large size (several stories high) and the ornate motifs and solid architectural construction. The other current exhibit provides an interesting look into the local Hmong community. Beginning with the message “Peb Yog Hmoob” (We are Hmong), the exhibit goes on to reveal some of the cultural history of the people and their transition to life in America. Again, artifacts, photographs, jewelry, toys and more help guests visualize everyday life experiences.
A special “History of the Chinese in Chico” exhibit includes an original temple and a timeline of Chinese activity in, and out of, the Chico area. A large, well-preserved Chinese temple drum and gong is on display, which was originally used in local parades and in temple ceremonies. One section of the museum is given over to a 19th century mock classroom, complete with old wooden student desks, blackboard and books. Several other plastic-encased displays look at early Chico pioneers such as James John Morehead, who settled in the area during the Gold Rush in 1852. He went on to thrive, first raising cattle in large numbers, then growing wheat. Morehead’s efforts proved successful. He constructed a beautiful Victorian-style home, continuing to be an influential resident of the Chico area until his death at age 57.
One of the largest and most impressive displays is “Chico, California: A Place in Time,” in which photos, artifacts and summary explanations take the observer on a comprehensive timeline travel as they walk, read and observe from left to right—a distance of more than 20 feet. The timeline spans the mid-1800s up to the year 2016. Highlights look at famous pioneer John Bidwell, James Morehead (noted above) and important economic-impacting events.
A gift shop offers the work of several talented local artists, including one-of—a-kind jewelry and local spices. The usual t-shirts, hats and mugs are available as well.
141 Salem St., Chico • (530) 891-4336
Hours: Thursday-Sunday, 11 am-4 pm