CHICO – In 1853, brick pillars laid in Chico laid the foundation for a future mansion. Now the house is in the hands of Michele Shover, a former member of the political science faculty and chair of the department at Chico State. After painstaking restorations, the mansion opened on Saturday to tell the story of its former owner; a bit of a ghost, a floating name: the Chico Chapmans.
Little Chapman Manor
The land the mansion sits on was land that was not purchased from the Bidwells, but rather from another grant purchased from a young lawyer who worked for Chico founder John Bidwell. Still in the stage of building the ranch house by building brick pillars, the attorney died suddenly at the age of 33, where the estate was suspended, Shover said.
After a local Irish doctor who served as Bidwell’s veterinarian purchased the estate, a ranch house called Sunflower Farm, which would later be the current living and dining room, sprang up. The doctor lost the property due to a devastating recession and drought in 1863 that washed away many homes during the same period, Shover said.
Gus Chapman is from Michigan where he worked as a lawyer and lost his run for office in 1860, Shover said. With the onset of the Civil War, Chapman traveled to California.
“I think he was running from the war,” Shover said. “A lot of people who came to the west in the 1860s were fleeing the war – a lot of people in Chico were fleeing the war. Some were victims of it, some just didn’t want to serve.
Arriving in broke Chico, Chapman found work at John Bidwell’s store, Shover said, where he worked with partner John Wood. After taking over operations, Shover believes that George Perkins, who would become California’s 14th Governor, funded a separate store that Bidwell was in Washington D.C. that would turn out to become a rival establishment that Chapman would co-own.
Chapman and his family began living in the house from 1870 where they expanded the architecture. As the family altered their home, Chapman dreamed of a larger home that would come to fruition later in 1877. Across the street, the Big Chapman Mansion would sit with 14 bedrooms. After suffering financial difficulties, the Chapmans sold the house in the 1890s where Chico historian David Nopel said it would then serve as a hospital before burning down in 1908.
“When I started, I started planning to write an essay â I just wanted something for when people were like, ‘So who’s Chapman? Shover said. “And it pissed me off when people just said, ‘He must have just been a slumberman’ â yeah no.”
Chico History Museum
Shover’s home was open to the public for the Chico History Museum’s event, “Celebrating Chico’s Chapmans” on Saturday, where guests could listen to Shover read Chapman’s story and tour Chapman’s garden and mansion.
Del Travis, who has had family in Chico since 1863, is a board member of the Chico History Museum.
“It’s very important,” Travis said. âThere is so much more history than the Bidwell Mansion. There is a more diverse history in Chico.
The Museum itself is trying to tell more sides of the same story, said Florie Kuperman, chair of the board.
âHistory is not one-sided, there is always more,â Kuperman said. It’s just that sometimes the stories aren’t written well and they’re just word of mouth. We are lucky to have local historians who want to go deeper. When we do our program, we ask ourselves if there are other stories and how they relate to Chico.
Shover came to Chico in 1968 to join the Chico State staff in the political science department where she had a 35-year career. In 1976, Shover bought a house that would open the door for her to examine Chico’s past. When the house was first purchased, utilities and more had not yet been upgraded to late 20th century standards. In 1981, Shover will publish Chico’s Little Mansionhis first attempt to tell the story of his house and the Chapmans.
Shover’s research comes from newspaper accounts and documents that will be included in his new book, due out in August.