Tripp of a century
Dorothy Tripp, 100-year-old granddaughter of pioneer pharmacist Wesley Lee, remembers early 20th-century Chico
Dorothy Tripp doesn’t seem like she’s 100. She seems more like a spry 85. But by the time you read this, Dorothy will in fact be 100 years old, having passed the century mark on Wednesday, April 10.
Alerted to her approaching centennial by a manager at the residence where Dorothy now lives, CN&R photographer Tom Angel and I visit Ms. Tripp. She is quite happy to relate her memories and impressions of Chico in the early part of the last century.
She doesn’t remember much about her maternal grandfather, Wesley Lee, a Chico pioneer and founder, in 1883, of Lee Pharmacy, a downtown institution until it closed in 1994. He died before she was born. “I didn’t ever know my grandfather at all,” she admits in a soft, occasionally hesitant voice. But Dorothy remembers one thing her mother told her. “He came out here to California and camped up there on the hillside outside of Chico,” she relates.
“He decided that down here would be a good place to set up his business. Then he went back home,” she says, adding she believes that was in Missouri. “That’s when he chose to move out here. Then he built a home in town. I know my mother tried to tell me all about him, but I don’t remember. Young kids don’t want to listen to old stuff.”
Lee’s daughter Bertha met and married one Charles “C.A.” Tripp and moved to the small and now nonexistent lumber town of Igerna, which once stood near the foot of Mt. Shasta. It was here that Dorothy was born. About the age of 2, she and her family relocated to Stirling City.
“I can remember when I started first grade,” she says of Stirling City. “It was at mid-year, and it had snowed. My mother got me all ready. We only lived three or four houses [down from] the school grounds. So she started me off to school, and I remember they had board sidewalks and they’d shoveled the sidewalks off. But [the snow] was deep enough, she said, that she lost sight of me. It was deeper than I was tall!”
Dorothy also remembers the first automobile she ever saw.
“It was one that [belonged to] my mother’s uncle,” she says. “It was the first one I ever rode in. Then there was a man in Chico, a friend of my father. And he used to pick us up on Sundays to go riding. He had an agency for cars at Fourth and Main Streets, the southeast corner [where the city buildings are now]. I think it was Studebaker.”
It was a dealership?
“Yes, something like that,” she says. Dorothy admits that the vehicle had no back or sides to it, and they often feared for falling off the contraption! “You had to be sure to stay in your seat,” she explains, “or you might end up in the street!”
When asked what type of child she was, whether she had any hobbies or unusual interests, she replies, “No, I was just a common kid. There was nothing extra about me. I didn’t sing, I didn’t dance or anything.” She did, however, demonstrate an early inclination toward teaching. “They always kept telling me that I was born to be that. I would always [put together] a little ‘class’ of children to teach. They were sure I was going to be a teacher.” She laughs and says, “So I was pushed into it as much as anything!”
The Tripp family moved from Stirling City when one of Dorothy’s older brothers hit his teens; the small town didn’t have a high school. She finished out her elementary education at Chapman School. Eventually, Dorothy attended Chico High School, when it was then located in a building at First and Salem Streets in downtown Chico. I point out that the high school was awfully close to the college, then called Chico Normal School. “Yes, it was just ‘cross the fence!”
When asked if she ever saw Annie Bidwell when she first lived in Chico, Dorothy says the founding matriarch would ride in the lead carriage during parades. Other than that, the only time Dorothy saw Annie close-up was when the grand old lady was laid out in her casket at Bidwell Mansion!
“They had all the school children march by that casket,” she says. “Every child in Chico. The casket was up a little higher, and I had to get up on my toes to see. My mother was sort of annoyed by it. They didn’t ask you if you wanted to go, you just went! She thought we were too [young] to be viewing [a deceased person].”
Dorothy was a teenager in Chico during the 1910s. What did they do for fun?
“I remember the excitement when Mt. Lassen erupted [in 1914],” she says. “We’d go out in the yard and see all the smoke coming up. That was great entertainment!”
She doesn’t remember any ash sifting far enough south to affect Chico and says most folks didn’t seem too worried about anything similar happening closer to home.
Did she go to the movies?
“I must have been in the first part of high school before I saw a movie,” she admits. Dorothy doesn’t remember what the picture was, but it was definitely silent. After that initiation into the joys of cinema, she says, “We always went to a movie on Saturday afternoons. [The theater] was on Second Street.” It wasn’t the El Rey, however, although it was there at the time; it was the theater across the street, Dorothy claims.
I seem to remember seeing an old photograph of Second Street depicting things just as Dorothy says: The El Rey where it still is today and another theater across from it. Unfortunately, none of us can quite recall what it was called. Dorothy remembers a bit of youthful high jinks she and others occasionally engaged in: sneaking into the theater without paying!
“I was in on it once in a while,” she admits, impishly. “You’d go up the stairs as though you were going to the lodge that was up there—it was Moose or Elks. Then we’d sneak into the balcony of the theater. That was one of the tricks you did to get in without paying! I don’t think I did that very much because I was scared. I knew what would happen if I got caught!”
Asked how old she was then, Dorothy says, “About 16. Seems like you’d have more sense when you were 16!”
Nobody ever does.
After high school, Dorothy did show considerable sense. She entered Chico Normal School, the forerunner of Chico State University, in 1920, subsequently graduating with her teacher’s credentials in 1922. Initially, she taught in Biggs. Later she was a teacher at Chapman School in Chico, eventually finishing her career as principal of that institution and retiring in 1961.
Someone interrupts and reminds Dorothy that she has an appointment to keep: She’s having her hair done.
As a final question, I ask if there’s anything she particularly misses about those days long ago.
Dorothy says, "No, not really."