Bidwell Mansion is a historic mansion in the Castroville area of Humboldt County, 75 miles (121km) south of Eureka, California. The estate was once owned by Frederick W. Bidwell and his wife Mary Averell Harriman, whose father, E. D. Morgan, founded the town of Castroville on part of the property. The house has been restored to its original condition and now hosts visitors as part of the Bidwell-Sacramento River Association’s Fred T. Sterling Memorial State Historic Park. The two-story building features an attic that runs nearly the entire width of the structure. It also includes a basement with a large wine cellar and servants’ quarters.
Visitors can pick fresh produce from the garden plot, including:
There are more than 100 trees representing over 50 species, plus stands of coast redwood, Douglas fir, madrone, tan oak, big leaf maple, and river birch among others. Over 150 wildflowers bloom here every spring. Nearly 1,000 birds migrate past this way each year.
The park is located at the intersection of the North Coast Railroad Trail and Old Town Road, east of U.S. Route 101 in northern Humboldt County, about 75 miles (121km) south of Eureka, the county seat. The nearest city is Fairfield, about 12 miles (19km) away. Access is via Cal Trans route 200, which turns into Little Lake Street, then heads west before turning north onto Gold Beach Avenue; access from I-101 is much easier, coming up through Madras on the Bayview Highway.
On Sundays, there is often a farmer’s market held outside the entrance gate, especially in summer. The park is open seven days per week May through October. Admission is $5 daily, children under 16 are allowed in at no cost. Parking fees are in effect November through April. The park receives almost 300,000 visitors annually.
The home remained largely unoccupied until 1945 when it was purchased by Jack and Betty Sacramento who maintained it for many years as a residence for their son Steven and his family. In 1963, Steven sold the property to developers George and Joan Folwell who planned to build homes on the site. However, after viewing the property, they decided to donate 10 acres (0.40km2), including the main house, to the state of California to be set aside as a park.
This occurred during a period where parks were being developed throughout the Sacramento Valley. The parcel was officially transferred on June 5, 1966, becoming the first urban farm preserve in the region. It was named the Fred T. Sterling Memorial State Historic Park after Fredrick Theodore “Ted” Sterling, a former president of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company who died in office in 1956.
The land contained within Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park was originally homesteaded by David N. Hershey, but he lost his life in World War II fighting against fascism in Europe. After the war, the property was bought by Frederick W. Bidwell and Mary Averell Harriman whose names remain attached to the property today. Their descendants still live nearby. The couple established themselves in 1876 in Eureka, where Mr. Bidwell worked as vice president of Wells Fargo Bank.
They built their home along the banks of the Yuba River, overlooking what would become known as Cottonwood Island. By 1880 they had moved into their new home, which featured several towers that permitted them to get a scenic view of the surrounding countryside.
With the help of a team of financial professionals headed by Joe Granoff, the ranch was turned over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in September 1974. It was given to Save Our Heritage, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, who eventually donated it to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Eventually, it was agreed that the best thing to do with the property was to make it available to the public as a state park.
Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park opened to the public on December 8, 1976. Today, it is considered the premier attraction in the small coastal community of Castroville.
The park offers:
- tours of the mansion and grounds
- working farm with authentic farming implements and livestock.
Every year, thousands of tourists visit the park to:
- learn about sustainable agriculture practices,
- enjoy watching native animals
- explore old buildings