Gold Towns: Bidwell’s Bar

In July 1848, John Bidwell discovered gold on the Middle Fork of the Feather River. The next year Bidwell’s gold camp became a bustling mining community as hundreds of miners congregated along the nearby rivers and streams. Merchants established stores to supply the miners’ needs and the early tent city was replaced by wood and stone buildings, although living there continued to be rough and devoid of suitable accommodations for travelers. Because ferrying people and supplies across the river proved to be difficult—especially during the winter months—funds were raised to construct the Bidwell Bar Bridge, the first suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River. Although the bridge was destroyed in the 1852 flood, by 1853 the population had swelled to 2,000, and a post office opened. That same year, the state of California moved the Butte County seat to Bidwell’s Bar, designating the location as the town of Bidwell. A fire destroyed much of the town in 1854, but it was quickly rebuilt. A new suspension bridge was completed in 1856. By then, however, the gold was nearly depleted, and miners were moving on to nearby Oroville, which became the new county seat. Within a year, the population of Bidwell’s Bar dwindled to 200, and by 1882, only 30 people remained. The post office operated until 1900. The last remnants of Bidwell’s Bar were submerged beneath Lake Oroville in 1968. The only items remaining are the 1856 bridge, relocated by preservationists to the south side of Lake Oroville, the “Mother Orange Tree” originally planted at Bidwell’s Bar (removed to the California State Park Headquarters in Oroville in 1964), and a clock tower now in the Butte County Historical Museum.

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