Union House (a.k.a. Fitzgerald House) at Bidwell’s Bar
Photo courtesy of Dennis A. Waters Fine Daguerreotypes.
The above photo of the Union House is of special interest to local historians. It is the only known photo of a building located in the town of Bidwell that was taken during the time period when the town was at its zenith of prosperity and importance. Enlargement of the photo reveals the dark rectangular sign above the downstairs door identifies that location as the Office of the Feather River & Ophir Water Company. This company filed Articles of Incorporation in Butte County, California, on February 7, 1855. Based on this information the probable date of the photo is the summer of 1855. The identity of the individuals is unknown.
The photo image shown on this page is from the original Daguerreotype now in private ownership. A special thanks to Randy Taylor for alerting this researcher to it's existence, and to Dennis A. Waters for granting permission to display the image!
Prior research to identify the Union House Photo
Prior to the awareness of the existence of this original Daguerreotype image, research was done using a very poor quality image of the Union House located in 1958, by Jim Lenhoff at the California State library. A notation on the back of the State Library photo identified it as “Union House - Oroville 1853.” However, local historians realized several attributes of the photo did not match that of the Union Hotel located in Oroville.
The main concerns related to the state identification of the image centered on the name of the building and the skyline profile behind the building. There were three major hotels at Bidwell during the years between 1853-1860. This included the National Hotel, the Shade Hotel and the Union House, a.k.a. Fitzgerald House. The dual name of the Union House is significant in the fact that the Union Hotel located in Oroville, never had the name “House” associated with it’s identity. The back of the state photo was dated 1853. A second source of information could not be located to confirm if the photo was of the original Union House, built prior to the August 2, 1854 fire which destroyed nearly all the buildings in Bidwell, or the new Union House rebuilt on the same site after the fire.
Extensive research was published in 2010, which included a draft map (see map of Bidwell on this site) of the historic town of Bidwell locate at Bidwell's Bar. The location of the Union House is shown on the town map. Subsequent research updated the map and provided additional information to confirm the location of the Union House in the town. The photo of the Union House shows a faint skyline ridge in the background. Reviewing historic topographic maps around Bidwell, a location that matches the faint skyline ridge was confirmed. The results of that research are shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Red arrow indicates view direction when standing on Union Street in town of Bidwell and looking southwest toward front of the Union House. It is also significant that the ridgeline profile shown in the photo is not possible at the known location of the Union Hotel in Oroville. (Map base: A post 1856, topographic map, of area around Bidwell’s Bar.)
Descriptive first person accounts were located that provided additional information about the Union House located in Bidwell. The Fitzgerald family history records that George and Annie Fitzgerald, natives of Ireland, came to America and then to Bidwell's Bar in the 1850’s (circa 1852 - 1853). They lived in a tent for almost a year while building a hotel, the Union House. About the same time Mr. & Mrs. Alexander Totman arrived at Bidwell in the 1850's. Their daughter, Mrs. Mary Rogers remembers them describing the Fitzgerald House (a.k.a. the Union House) as being two stories with a big dining room, kitchen, broad hall, parlor to stairway that had a billiard table and small game tables. There was not a liquor bar in the building.
The date issue to determine if the image was the original or rebuilt Union House is resolved by the presence of the Feather River and Ophir Water Company sign over the door on the original image. The date of the company formation confirms the original image is of the Union House that was rebuilt in 1854.