For seven years Chuck Smay has been digging into the historical records of a small town that for a short time in the nineteenth century was the seat of government in Butte County. His work, some written in the first person, reads like a mystery story as he pieces together evidence from old deeds as to the businesses there and old maps as to the size of the place. General readers will enjoy the winsome narrative and armchair historians will appreciate the carefully chosen details.
"The Town of Bidwell at Bidwell's Bar: Boom and Bust, 1848 - 1860" ($25 in paperback from the Butte County Historical Society, email@example.com) has a companion website,
http://sites.google.com/site/bidwellthetown. Copies of the book are available at the Society's Museum Store in Oroville (http://www.buttecountyhistoricalsociety.org/giftshop.html).
Smay provides first an overview of the town's history with a chapter devoted to its various names (Bidwell, Bidwell's Bar, Bidwell Bar). Next is the story (an adventure, really) of map reconstruction and then several chapters devoted to the post office, the town's newspaper, the National Hotel, and the bridge at Bidwell's Bar. There are also historical photographs and a wealth of appendices.
In 1854 the editor of the Butte Record in Bidwell "expressed his view of community values": "Dropping into one of the newly erected saloons in town the other evening, we were surprised and shocked to see the youth of Bidwell, gathered around several tables, and engaged in the nefarious business of gambling."
There's also the story of a political fight for the future of Bidwell. "Between 1853 and 1856 Bidwell was the center of county government." A fire gutted the town in 1854, but the residents rebuilt. "In 1854 talk started about the construction of a permanent bridge across the Feather River at Bidwell" and "the local newspaper championed the continued prosperity of the town and unlimited future growth."
But the town failed to reckon with nearby Ophir (Oroville) "which began flexing its political and economic muscle," causing "vicious editorial exchanges" between rival newspapers. Bidwell lost. "Its remaining glory was perpetuated by a bridge, tollhouse, orange tree and a small community of businesses that served the needs of the local residents who refused to leave the area." But now, in print, it lives again.