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Anderson Valley History Museum Packs a Punch

If you love local history and you love to do research the Anderson Valley History Museum is your dream come true. There are three buildings to explore. The anchor is The Little Red Schoolhouse built in 1891 and in continuous use educating Anderson Valley kids until 1979 (almost 90 years). If the walls could talk what tales of Valley youth they could tell. 

Joan Rose was my docent/guide during my visit. Born in the Valley she attended kindergarten in the schoolhouse. Beautiful formal Diplomas of Graduation from the AV High School are posted here belonging to her great grandmother Maggie Clow, dated 1897 and great grandfather Samuel McAbee, dated 1893. She has very deep roots in the Valley.

There are all kinds of resources available ranging from casual, just looking at objects on exhibit, to the detailed files on assorted local topics to read through — old copies of the Anderson Valley Advertiser 1954-1985. There is an old printing press, non-electric variety. The Tuttle Building built by Walter Tuttle holds objects of daily life on ranches and farms. Some are from inside the house, like irons, stoves, pots and pans, canning supplies, sewing equipment, clothing and furniture. Lots of items are from the rough and ready outdoor life people led. 

Before mass production people had to make the tools they needed. Blacksmiths were in great demand to forge strong tools. You can see the leather chaps that protected people on horseback from scratchy underbrush and blacksmiths from red hot metal. A huge bellows (the biggest I’ve ever seen) must have been used to get a Blacksmith’s fire white hot. 

So many battles we don’t have to fight now people had deal with daily to protect themselves from harm and hunger. Lots of canning made summer’s bounty last into winter. Apple Dryers took fresh apples and turned them into a much lighter and spoil-proof product to sell. Tan bark stripped off tan oaks was another exportable product that had its own set of tools.

There are toys including a large rocking horse and a big dollhouse that kept the children happy along with the cradles that rocked them as babies. Clearly a woman’s work was never done: laundry boilers, washtubs, wringers, and irons were for a much longer washday than we imagine today. There is bedding and linens and lots of clothing on display from different eras. Ironing the clothes with a woodstove top heated flat iron must have been a real treat in the middle of a 90-plus degree summer day. 

Think of cooking or baking bread in a wood fired stove in a small house on a hot day wearing those “cover every inch of skin” dresses? We have it so easy. “Me” time must have been entirely non-existent. Working from dawn to dark must have been a necessity for everyone who wanted to keep up with chores, maintain shelter and keep food on the table.

Lots of photos illustrate many everyday activities ranging from a threshing crew to the men on a grand jury. Leather and metal were the primary materials at hand. Interesting and inspiring to see that even with the pressure on everyone to produce practical goods they took the time to embellish things like saddles with beautiful stamped embossing. 

Simple machines like a foot peddled grinding wheel kept tools in shape. A hook-handle to lift bales of hay was carefully designed to be comfortable in the hand. There are lots of metal tools for purposes we rarely need today like a hub wrench and pin. Looking at a wooden wagon wheel makes you stop and think about how much harder it was to roll anywhere before rubber tires came down the pike. The spokes each carefully shaped to come together around a hub in the middle with a steam shaped wooden wheel faced with metal for the “tire.” These brittle wheels must have broken very regularly especially on long journeys over poorly maintained roads. No AAA to bail out the hapless driver in those days. There are sheepbells and cowbells to find stragglers and wanderers.

Joan told me that her older relatives told her that they worked hard all week and then drove towards the coast where there was a dance hall on the weekend. You’d think they would have been too tired to dance but apparently they weren’t. 

Putting the kids down to sleep by tucking them into corners under coats and bags they danced the night away, A trip to where the river met the ocean came with the stern mother’s warning, “Never turn your back on the ocean” — good advice to this day. 

In more recent times Joan told me that her son and a friend rode a raft in the dead of night down the river from the Greenwood Bridge to the Floodgate. That must have been quite the adventure. City kids could only dream of following Tom Sawyer’s example, while valley kids could try the river life out for themselves.

It is fascinating to take a trip back in time and imagine how others lived before you. The Museum is open Saturday and Sunday 1-4 PM February to November. There is always a docent on duty ready to answer your questions and introduce you to the collection. The address is 12340 Highway 128 in Boonville just across from the AV Elementary School. 

They have a great web site (just type Anderson Valley History Museum into your browser) that includes; Valley History, Boontling, Events, Membership, Shopping, Visit Us and information on renting the Community Rose Room (a very nice central location, reasonable attractive and comfortable). Under Valley History you will find: The Pomo, Settlers, Making a Living, Schools, AV Graveyards and Resident Interviews. 

Resident Interviews is an especially valuable resource. Two references are included the “Voices of the Valley” which is a collection of oral history books put together by Mitch Mendosa and his AV high school students. 

Even more extensive is the “AVA Life and Times” achieve. If you click on “visit the blog” and then scan all the way to the end of the interviews posted you will see in small type “Complete List of Interviews.” Click on this and you can access all the local interviews that originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser conducted by Steve Sparks — 160 different interviews, many of these key community players have since passed on making their preservation even more valuable. Check it out!

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