Hess Store at Bidwell

George Hess - John Larcombe 1853 - 1856

George Hess - A. L. Chamberlain 1857 - 1862

George W. Hess migrated to Bidwell’s Bar from Iowa in 1849, mining on the Feather River one season before purchasing a farm in the Marysville area. He had quickly determined there was more profit in supplying miner’s farm products than in the actual mining! In 1850, John Larcombe joined Sam Hess, George Hess’s younger brother, in the rush to the gold fields. They arrived in the Bidwell’s Bar area in the fall of 1850.

By 1853, Hess and Larcombe had formed a partnership and were owners of one of the major general merchandise stores in Bidwell’s Bar. The first day of operation is unknown but the Hess-Larcombe Miners Store had an advertisement in the first issue of the Butte Record on November 12 1853.


Miners Store. Wholesale and Retail Dealers in Groceries, Liquors,

Provisions, Clothing, and all kinds of Miners supplies & c.

The original Miners Store operated by Hess-Larcombe was located on the ground floor of the A. L. Bath Building. The Butte Record Newspaper office occupied the upstairs. A newspaper notice on December 10, 1853, indicated that A. L. bath decided to sell his building located on Miners Street. The date of the relocation of the Hess Store is unknown. However, based on the following information, it was sometime before December 24, 1853. The Union Billiard Saloon moved into the vacated store space and the Butte Record office remained upstairs.


Under, Record Printing Office. The subscriber, having just completed their establishment, would respectfully call the attention of his friends to the Table, which is one of Griffith & Decker’s manufacture, and acknowledges by judges to be superior to anything heretofore, before this community. The bar will be constantly supplied with the choicest brands of segars (sic), wines, Liquors &c, and the proprietor trusts that no exertion on his part shall be wanting to render this one of the most popular resorts in town. A. L. BATH & CO.

An advertisement for the Hess-Larcombe store appeared in the same issue of the newspaper as the opening announcement for the Union Billiard Saloon. On February 23, 1854, a deed indicates that George Lowry and John Hida purchased the A. L. Bath building for $1,000.

On August 2, 1854, it took about an hour for a fire to destroy virtually the entire town of Bidwell. Ironically the Bath Building, the Courthouse and Jail and a few other scattered building were the only structures that survived. Newspaper reports indicate the financial loss of the Hess-Larcombe store to be $12,000.

The incredible reliance of the Bidwell merchants is illustrated by Hess and Larcombe actions. In this era there was no insurance coverage or other financial safety nets to cover their losses. How they found the financial resource to quickly reorganize their business is unknown. However, they did have one option not available to other businesses that were destroyed. Hess and Larcombe had some supplies in a second building, located north of the Feather River, that was not destroyed in the fire. Apparently this facility was previously used as a warehouse. Thus, after the fire they were able to provide some merchandise to meet critical needs of the local residents. Additional supplies were promptly ordered from Marysville and other locations.


Our store on the north side of the river still pours forth in abundance all kinds of Miners supplies. We have also a stock of goods on the way from the Bay to again supply the demands of the south side, and at our usual low prices. H & L, are most happy to inform their old friends who had entrusted with us their money and papers that all is right and ready for them at a moments notice. Bidwell, Aug. 4, 1854. Hess & Larcombe

This article highlights the fact that many of the merchants provided bank- like services for their customers. Store records from the Gluckauf, later Bendle store also indicate extensive cash loans to customers and a majority of the purchases being made on credit accounts.

It appears that Hess-Larcombe operated temporary stores on both sides of the Feather River while planning for a new store at the original location. They had an ambitious plan in mind. On May 22, 1855, Hess and Larcombe purchased a parcel of land adjacent to their destroyed store from Gordon Stolberg for $300. Later that same month George Hess acquired a second parcel of land in an adjacent area through a Sheriff’s Sale. A Butte Recordarticle of June 30, 1855, revealed the merchants plans:

Improvements: The go-ahead workmen who are putting up a splendid fireproof brick building for our worthy townsmen, Messes Hess and Larcombe, are walking right along with it. They had completed the basement walls on yesterday morning, and we observe that the joists were placed ready to receive the ground floor. This building when completed, will be an ornament to the flourishing town of Bidwell as well as a credit to its owners - the pioneers of brick buildings in our town. It will have a splendid basement story, a magnificent and capacious storeroom, and anupper-story which isdesignated for a Masonic Lodge room and Odd Fellows’ Hall, and will be safe and comfortable for these purposes.

Messes Hess & Larcombe, made an investment of almost innumerable “scads” in a fire which occurred on the 2d day of August last, in Bidwell, but they have concluded that on the 2d day of August next, they will have some of their cash invested in a fireproof -- Success the honest industry and enterprise, for it almost invariable results in public magnificence.

By the end of July, 1855, The Hess & Larcombe store was back in business in Bidwell in their new brick building!





THE SUBSCRIBERS WOULD ANNOUNCE TO THEIR FIENDS AND PATRONS, that they have just completed a BRICK FIREPROOF STORE, ON THE OLD CORNER, and have filled it with a general assortment of …

The newspaper capitalization and emphasis is retained from the original article to show the important of that part of the announcement. Note the store is open “On The Old Corner”. The 1858 Tax records indicate the store was located on the corner of Miners and Water Street.

One year after a fire destroyed their wooden store building, Hess and Lacombe had reconstructed and opened the first brick building in the town of Bidwell. It is interesting that Joseph Gluckauf, the owner of the other major store in the town had likewise rebuilt his store, it being the first native stone building. Both the Hess and Gluckauf stores continued to operate in Bidwell for several years after the county seat was relocated to Oroville in 1856.

Definitive facts about John Larcombe’s personal activities while residing at Bidwell have not been located. The business partnership between Hess and Larcombe ended sometime between 1856 and 1857. John Larcombe was a bachelor as was George W. Hess. Research by family historian, Paul F. Mitchell, Great-Great Grandson of John Larcombe, has determined that John Larcombe returned to his native England, married, had a child in his homeland in 1858 and subsequently returned to the Reno Nevada area where he once again owned a store.

A store advertisement of 1857 indicats that George W. Hess’s new business partner was A. L. Chamberlain. Personal information about Chamberlain has not been located. His business partnership continued until Hess’s death on October 10, 1862.

Information has not located any data to determine if Hess-Chamberlain store ceased operation at Hess’s death, or continued to operate for some period of time. Hess remained a bachelor all of his life and died intestate. It took the Probate Court appointed administrator and Probate Judge several years to sell the assets and settle all the business and personal matters of the Estate of George W. Hess.

By 1868, there was little buyer interest in purchasing buildings in the Bidwell area. On September 26, 1868, a one-half interest in the Hess-Chamberlain store was appraised at $2,000 and the adjacent brick Doctor Wilson’s home and office at $375. Both properties were sold at a Sheriff’s sale to Isaac R. Ketchum for $110. Ketchum was at that time the bridge tender at the nearby Bidwell Bridge Company Toll Bridge. Records have not been located to determine if A. L. Chamberlain was the owner of the other undivided half of the property. No records have been located to describe what happened to the buildings that Ketchum purchased or the other owner’s interests.

The Hess probate case was closed in 1869, seven years after his death. The long process and associated costs of settling Hess’s personal and real estate interests reduced his assets to a point where it did not fully cover the costs. The estate data indicates that Reuben Hess Stover, the Estate Administrator, was the individual who absorbed the estate shortfall. His actions were an honorable tribute to his uncle, George W. Hess.

Lacking other narrative data, historians, at this time, only have three photos to provide a snapshot of the later years of the structures existence. The timeline of these glances into the past include photos taken in the late 1890’s(circa), 1906 and 1924.

The undated photo above is a cropped section of a larger photo that shows both this Hess and the adjacent Gluckauf store buildings in relative good condition.

The 1906 photograph taken by Norwood Silsbee shows damage to the building as indicated in the annotations on the photo. The photo is courtesy of the California Geological Survey. This researcher believes the identification of the photo in the collection as “Old Hotel at Bidwell’s Bar” is incorrect.

The third photo taken in 1925 by J. H. Hogan, shows the Hess store building in an advanced state of deterioration.


The brick store that was once a major landmark and important part of the town of Bidwell at some point collapsed into a pile of brick rubble. Eventually, even the individual bricks were carted off to some unknown location. A sobering end to a building that once represented man’s triumph over the disastrous fire but it could not survive the ravages of time.