The Orion

Uncovering the history of Chico's past

Kayla Smith

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Greek chapter houses give a peek into early Chico life. Living rooms that currently host binge-watching sessions of Netflix shows and kitchens that serve as the mecca of grilled-cheese sandwiches might very well be pieces of Chico history dating back to the 1800s.

The historical homes scattered around the south-campus area, such as Greek chapter houses, give an interesting look into Chico’s past.

Phi Kappa Tau — “Bicknell House,” 1898phikappatau

611 W. Fifth St.

This house was owned by an Australian-born carpenter named Thomas Bicknell, who lived in the home with his wife Mary Ann Yackel Abbe and their four kids.

Bicknell owned a furniture and mortuary business. His son, Harry, took over his father’s mortuary in 1907, now known as Bidwell Chapel. The Bicknell family lived in the home until 1944.

oxTheta Chi — “Eames House,” 1895

630 W. Fifth St.

The Eames house was originally owned by A.G. Eames, who moved to Chico from Gilroy when his father came to work for John Bidwell. Eames was president of the Chico Chamber of Commerce and bought Chico Soda Works in 1884.

His in-laws, the Bicknell’s, lived across the street, in what is now known at the Phi Kappa Tau chapter house. In the early 1900s, Julia Morgan, California’s first female architect, remodeled the house.

The Eames family lived in the house until 1941. The house then became a nursing home and a ramp was installed on the east side.

Alpha Sigma Phi — “Lizzie Crew Canfield House,” 1903alphasigmaphi

429 W. Fourth St.

This house was originally owned by a A.H. Crew, a local banker. It was willed to his daughter, Lizzie Canfield, and rented to Peter H. Fotheringham, the owner of the Emporium department store on Broadway Street in 1912

Mrs. Fotheringham was known around town for her English garden in the backyard.

gamaGamma Phi Beta — “C.C. Matthews House,” 1906

606 W. Fifth St.

What is currently known as the Gamma Phi Beta chapter house was built specifically for C.C. Matthew, a bookkeeper.

Built in 1906, the home is the youngest on either side of the block.

There has always been talk about what Greek houses on Hazel Street used to be in the 20th century, said Nikolette Brannan, the house manager of Gamma Phi Beta.

“I’ve heard that the Gamma Phi Beta house was the dentist, the Theta Chi house was an old folks home, hence the ramp in the front and Phi Kappa Tau was the mortuary where they buried the dead bodies, she said.

It’s fascinating to be surrounded by homes with so much history, Brannan said.

“I just want to know the stories of the people who used to live here,” she said.

Alpha Gamma Delta — “Kennedy House,” 1916alphagammadelta

413 W. Fifth St.

The house that sorority Alpha Gamma Delta currently calls home is tied historically to the Bidwell family. The first owner, Guy Kennedy, was Annie Bidwell’s nephew.

Kennedy was a prominent Chico lawyer and city attorney who was also active in cattle raising and banking.

“Guy Kennedy and his wife, Eva, were bootleggers during the prohibition and used our spacious basement to make moonshine,” said Jenae Reich, president of Alpha Gamma Delta. “The wraparound driveway was used when people were picking up their bootleg. We also have tunnels underneath our houses that are said to connect to Madison Bear Garden and other houses around town, although they are closed off now.”

 

Kayla Smith can be reached at [email protected]theorion.com or @Kayla_Smith1013 on Twitter.

Photographs by Julia Hoegel and Lindsay Pincus.

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