Neal Dow was a famed Prohibitionist and the Mayor of Portland, Maine in 1851. Chico has both an elementary school and street named after him. Chico resident Marcia Tarabini submitted a question to NSPR asking what the connection was between this historical figure and the city, and why these places adorn his name.
Marcia, first, you’re not the only one who has had this question.
In fact, as I began my initial research for this story online, I found someone who had asked this exact question on a blog called Goldfields: Life and History in Northern California. Hoping she might have already found the answer for me, I met with Nancy Leek, the author of the blog and a retired librarian. Leek wrote books about Chico’s founders John and Annie Bidwell, and was particularly interested in Chico’s local history. She initially thought that the street was named after a notable Chicoan, but was surprised to find out it was named after someone who lived so far away.
“The reason I got interested in the question of Neal Dow is because when we moved here 25 years ago, our youngest daughter was starting kindergarten at Neal Dow School and I assumed Neal Dow was some famous citizen of Chico,” Leek said. “I always wondered who he was, and then I found out he wasn't from Chico at all. I thought, ‘well why was a man from Portland, Maine … why would he have a school or street named after him in Chico?’”
Leek explained that the Bidwell’s were also Prohibitionists, so she figured it was likely they were fans of Dow. While Leek had a lot of knowledge on the Bidwells and Dow through research and reading the Bidwells’ diaries, she wasn’t certain the street and school were named directly after Dow.
To dig a little deeper, I visited the Garden Walk Mall, where a small volunteer-run organization called Chico Heritage Association resides. It specializes in keeping records of the history of the city.
Volunteer Randy Taylor assisted my search and gave more context between the Bidwell/Dow connection.
“Annie Bidwell was an admirer of Neal Dow and other people who were a part of the Prohibition Party to outlaw alcohol, and so she named streets for a couple different Prohibitionists and Neal Dow was one,” Taylor said.
Taylor had mentioned that the Chico History Museum downtown might have some information on the school. He volunteered there, so he was able to pull out a poster dedicated just to the school.
Though Neal Dow Elementary was built in 1964, it was safe to say that Annie Bidwell did not name it herself since her death was in 1918. However, Dow must have had a great impression on the Bidwells because it earned him the school’s name.
In the second paragraph, the poster read: “Neal Dow Elementary was named for a close friend of John and Annie Bidwell. Neal Dow was a Quaker who was a life-long anti-slavery advocate and was considered to be the ‘Father of Prohibition,’ a Civil War General and was once a presidential candidate.”
To confirm that this information was directly from the school, I emailed Erica Smith, an administrative aide for the Chico Unified School District. She sent me information she had about the school’s history, which was verbatim the information on the poster.
So there you have it, Marcia. Neal Dow Elementary School and Neal Dow Avenue are definitely named after Neal Dow, famed Prohibitionist and close friend of John and Annie Bidwell.
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