Thursday, September 20, 2007

Story of Chico's Stansbury home begins with Mississippi culture


The Stansbury Home museum is one of Chico's favorite wedding venues, but those who don't know its history can visit "The House at 5th and Salem" ($7.50 in paper, commissioned by the Stansbury Home Preservation Association) through the eyes of Frederick S. Clough, the grandson of Dr. Oscar Stansbury.

Originally published in 1978, the reprint includes numerous black-and-white historical photographs of the house and its inhabitants, an overview map of Chico in 1871, and a Stansbury family tree.

Sorting through family possessions, Clough found hundreds of medical notes and letters (one from 1793) which he used to create "an informal account of my grandfather's life — his beginnings in Mississippi, his boyhood experiences during the Civil War, his college days, his journey west and highlights of his life in Chico from his arrival in 1875 until his death in 1926. But how to go about it? After some reflection, I decided to present the story in the form of a series of simulated interviews with Grandfather."

The portrait of O. Stansbury (he never liked "Oscar") that emerges is that of a person with a keen sense of humor and, according to his wife Libbie, not much business sense. Stansbury was the product of the Old South; Clough has his grandfather say the following: "If you are ever going to understand me as you put together these reminiscences, you will have to accept the fact that, as repugnant as it may seem to you, we Southerners avoided the moral judgment as to whether slavery was good or evil. It was simply a way of life." A publisher's note in the book asks readers to consider the story in the context of its times.

The house, of "Italianate design," was completed in 1883 at a cost of $7,273, with a thousand dollars more for the property.

The book not only details everyday life in Chico, but also Stansbury's experience in San Francisco in 1906 when, on April 18, just after five in the morning, "I was suddenly awakened by a terrifying rumble like the sound of 50 railroad engines bearing down on me. The bed began to tremble and lurched partly across the room. ... The next six days, while the city burned ... I spent in Golden Gate Park taking care of the injured with what medical supplies were issued to me, still wearing the few clothes I had managed to put on when disaster struck."

Stansbury's story is part of the warp and woof of Chico, woven into our past, illuminating our present.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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