We live in a time where we are constantly pursuing the future; to have the latest technology, to be on the forefront of innovation and to always be within reaching distance of a screen of some sort. Add to that a fast paced society and it’s easy to get consumed by the “out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new” culture. But if you slow down and take a look around you might be surprised to find that there are still some people who refuse to bend to the throwaway culture. Those people are keeping the past alive through their relics and Bill Shelton is one of those people.
Bill Shelton is the current owner of the Bruce/Post House located at 1607 Park Avenue in Chico. When I pulled up to the house, the first thing that went through my mind was, “How have I never really seen this place before? It’s right off Park, I drive past it all the time.” It’s a big place. 14 rooms which includes 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a dining room, laundry room, kitchen, living room, den, office, sitting room, and pantry. The two storied home has a basement and the top floor is a big X-shaped pitched roof dancehall which is in the process of being restored.
The house itself was built in 1903 by William Bruce, and his wife, Effie Muriel Bruce, designed it. Although Shelton has put seven years worth of restoration into the house to bring it back to its original look with antique windows and all, what’s even more impressive than the house itself is what’s inside it.
Shelton has packed the house with antiques from his family that can be traced back to the Mayflower and other sublime pieces he’s bought or found over the years. He is what you might call a collector. He’s been collecting and keeping track of the history surrounding some pieces since he was seven years old. “Everything has a power about it. Everything has a spirit about it. And it was just the attraction to save things, save history. And if I hadn’t done it, so much of it would have ended up in the dump and be gone.”
It’s hard to write about everything I saw in this house because there was just so many amazing treasures. He has over 500 daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. Early photography was not printed on paper but on glass and metal, and most of the time it was the only copy. A portion of this collection will be featured in his third book, “Argonauts of El Dorado: Gold miners of the Three Branches of the Feather River before 1860.”
Shelton is a seventh generation Butte County resident. His family came over in 1841 on the Bartleson-Bidwell Party wagon train, traveling the California Trail with John Bidwell. One of his favorite pieces in his collection is a quilt made from remnants of that wagon train. “They were so poor when they got here that my great-great-great-great-grandmother took the stained wagon cover off of the wagon and then quilted it into a quilt. In the center it says ‘Mother’ and its like a super king-sized quilt.”
Another interesting part of his collection that comes from his family are the items left to him from his great-grandmother, Emma Red Wing, who was part Maidu Indian. “I have her baskets. I have her first reader that she learned to read with at Round Valley Reservation, and a lot of other things. The baskets are ones that she actually made.” He also has her mortars and pestles that she ground “stuff” in.
Shelton’s house and the antiques in it were fascinating and full of rich history although not all of it was pleasant. The front parlor was the meeting place for William Bruce and the organizers of a posse that went to Mill Creek Canyon and massacred the last of the Mill/Deer Creek Indians. Over the years there have been five deaths at the house, some of which were murder and/or suicides.
Shelton takes the bad history with the good and keeps it alive for the future generations. “I collect pieces of history and each piece speaks because people sat in these chairs, people spun at that spinning wheel, and I know who did it. Their spirits are still alive somehow through that. And that means a lot to me.”