The Past Today

A visit to the historic Chico Museum has something for everyone.

Located on the corner of Salem and West Second streets downtown, the Chico Museum is a stately brick building that was built in 1904 as a Carnegie-funded library.

When originally constructed, the building was half its current size. It was remodeled and enlarged in the 1930s and used as a library until the 1970s, when the county constructed a new, larger library elsewhere. At that time the Soroptimists Club started an effort to remodel it into a museum that could exhibit local artifacts and exhibits. The City of Chico donated the building for that purpose (it remained vacant for almost 10 years after the library closed), and the Chico Museum opened its doors in 1986.

Currently, the museum pays no rent for the building. The museum now contains 3,000 square feet of exhibit space and 1,600 square feet of collection and storage space.

It is a popular place to visit in Chico. Last year, the museum received more than 8,000 visitors and 100 classroom field trips.

The Chico Museum is free to all who want to see exhibits there, but a donation is requested ($1 for adults, 50 cents for kids). Those donations keep the place financially afloat—it has an annual budget of only about $70,000. The museum has a staff of two paid employees, along with several volunteers who maintain the facility and lead tours.

Paul Russell, the museum’s curator, pointed out that the Chico Museum truly is a community operation.

“It is a community-based museum,” he said. “We get our artifacts straight from the community. Without them we could not do art exhibits.”

The museum is currently gathering artifacts for a permanent exhibit based on local history. The exhibit, when complete, will examine Chico and the surrounding area, starting in 1830. The exhibit will open after the first of the year, Russell said.

The collection of works permanently displayed at the present time includes: photographs of Chico’s original Chinese Temple, Maidu Indian baskets, historical photographs, newspapers archives, and other memorabilia.

The Chico Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 4 pm. Tours are also available by appointment.

The museum also has a small souvenir shop that sells local history books, T-shirts, and small knickknacks so you can remember your visit to the museum.

Future showings at the Chico Museum:

Awakening from a California Dream,
a traveling exhibit about the many faces and environments of the state, opens Dec. 6 and runs through the end of January.

Chico Through the Artist’s Eye
opens on Feb. 16 and runs until May 10. This is a collection of artwork done by an advanced art class at Pleasant Valley High School, along with some professional artists.

100 Years of Chico High School,
a celebration of the centennial year of Chico’s first high school, opens on May 31 and runs until Nov. 22.

Audubon of the West:
Andrew Jackson Grayson features the nature photographs of this renowned photographer. This is a traveling exhibit that opens Dec. 14, 2002, and closes on Feb. 7, 2003.