Beautiful Jewel

Little Chapman Mansion in Chico…

Little Chapman Mansion owner and historian Michele Shover cast her eye on her beautiful jewel of a home soon after arriving in Chico many decades ago.

The A.H. Little Chapman Mansion, a national historic home, was purchased by the Chapman family in 1861. This was during the first year Chico was open for settlement, and the Chapmans lived at the mansion through the entire development of the community in the 19th century.

Photo courtesy of Michele Shover

Shover bought the historic home in 1976. She thought it looked like a farmhouse, which she was used to seeing growing up in her native Iowa. Shover came to Chico from New Orleans to join the political science department at Chico State, where she taught until 2005 and served as department chair for six years.

Since purchasing the home, Shover has lovingly renovated and updated the house, which still has some of its historic features. She created a rose garden and added a pool. Behind the house is a beautiful forest with a pavilion. “With age, it needed updating,” Shover says. “During that time period of American history, there was a big upsurge in affection for the restoration of old buildings.”

Photos by Kathleen Hassig

The mansion is a Downing cottage, and features include a T-shape floor plan, front and side verandas, a bay window and four gables on a steep, projecting roof. It was designed by Henry Cleveland, a famous architect who specialized in Downing cottages. The foundation was built in 1853, and a small house was built upon it 1859. Additions were made in 1870, a second story was added in 1874 and a kitchen was added in the 1890s. All of this development was the work of several generations of individuals and families who were part of Chico’s economic and civic history, according to the National Register of Historic Homes.

Photos by Kathleen Hassig

Little Chapman Mansion was named as a historic home in 1982, and today, southeast Chico is called Chapmantown after the family. Augustus Chapman, the head of the family, managed John Bidwell’s general merchandise store and developed its first suburb, Shover says. He was married to Sarah Chapman and they had five children. He was a longtime school trustee and led the construction of the Odd Fellows Hall at Third and Broadway. Governor George Perkins appointed him to head the state prison system.

Photos by Kathleen Hassig

Shover has done her best to keep that period of history as a tribute to the times. An acre in the back of the house had been a family orchard, and it also functioned as a grazing ground for racehorses. There was a wood storage building with an orchard workshop at the other end, which Shover turned into a guest house. She kept the main house as it was until 1999 when she removed the old kitchen.

Photos by Kathleen Hassig

The original kitchen had been a dining room. Shover built a garage and connected it to the house with a new, large kitchen. She added a second story and turned it into a bigger bedroom for herself and her former husband. They used the bedroom in the main house, but Shover uses a wheelchair and the room was very small, so she built a second bedroom and an elevator.

Photos by Kathleen Hassig

Shover rewired the house twice, and added a laundry porch and pavilion. She holds meetings and throws parties in her home, which is admired by all. She also rents out the guest house and a room upstairs. She loves decorating the well-known house during Christmas and adorns the house with fancy decorations.

Shover – also a local author – has lived in the house for 45 years, and at 82, she hopes to live there for five more years. “I have tried to maintain it by taking into account its original features,” she says. •

Little Chapman Mansion
256 East 12th Street, Chico

Photos by Kathleen Hassig
Photos by Kathleen Hassig

Article writtne by:

Jennie Blevins hails from Monterey and has lived in Chico for two years. She graduated from Chico State with a degree in journalism and received a master’s in magazine journalism from NYU. Blevins is a general assignment reporter at the Chico Enterprise-Record.

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