Celebrating and preserving our heritage

What was life like in Orange County the early 1900s? It was almost completely agricultural, but how did those people live? Well, the answers to these questions can still be found at the Heritage Museum at 3101 West Harvard St. in Santa Ana – which is just off Fairview between Warner and Edinger. Unfortunately, few people seem to be aware of the existence of this museum, but you should take your children and grandchildren and experience it. It really is a gem.

On this 12-acre site is the Kellogg House, which was built like a ship in 1898, the Maag House from the same time period, a blacksmith shop, a water tower, a gold mine, a gazebo, an herb and flower garden, and lots of citrus trees. It also has the highest point in Santa Ana (which is about 65 feet), and the only remaining freshwater marsh in the city. The Kellogg family founded an agricultural supplies business in Orange County that is still in existence, and the Maag family was instrumental in founding the Sunkist Growers Cooperative.

As its mission statement says, the Heritage Museum of Orange County is a cultural and natural history center dedicated to preserving, promoting, and restoring the heritage of Orange County and the surrounding region through quality hands-on educational programs for students and visitors of all ages. And the more you become familiar with what they do, the more you will agree that they are accomplishing that mission.

When you take a tour of the Kellogg House, you and your children will see life as it was 100 years ago by making butter, looking through a stereoscope viewer, doing laundry on a washboard, tasting home-grown citrus fruit, playing the pump organ just like your great grandfather did, dressing (and having your picture taken) in period clothes, and playing with old-fashioned toys.

The museum has many innovative hands-on programs for children and also hosts many other instructional activities. For example, third- to fifth-graders can build their own covered wagon, and “travel” from Independence, Mo. to the California Gold Fields, encountering many hardships along the way. They can also pan for gold in the museum’s rustic stream, remembering to yell “Eureka” when they find their first nugget.

The Heritage Museum also hosts a “First Californians” class for third- to fifth-graders that allows the children to touch and use native “artifacts,” participate in a traditional round dance, and make a ceremonial rattle to take home. Another class teaches children the importance of proper manners, including the formalities of setting a table, making introductions, and speaking on the telephone. Then they can practice their best manners at an old-fashioned tea party in the beautiful oval-shaped dining room of the Kellogg House, and finish the occasion with the preparation of a lovely thank-you note.

For older children, the Orange County Blacksmith Guild now holds beginning “smithy” classes on Saturday mornings, and makes hand-wrought iron goods for display and sale at the gift shop. In addition, the Orange County Astronomers conduct beginning astronomy courses on the site as well.

But this is not only a wonderful place for children and adults to have fun by learning, it is also a great and unique place for weddings and for private and corporate meetings, parties and picnics. When you see it, I know you will agree.

As you can imagine, there are numbers of exceptional opportunities for adults, scouts, and students to contribute as volunteers to the museum. These include docent tours of the facility, and people to help with the gardens and nature center. It also includes helping to expand the mine and water tower exhibits, continuing the decorating and electrical wiring of the Maag House, and much more.

In fact, at this moment the museum is attempting to complete two projects that will add immeasurably to its facility. The first is to move two late 19th Century houses from downtown Santa Ana, where they are scheduled to be demolished, to their site. Then they will be used, among other things, for job skills training for some of our youth. The second is to dig out the pond in the freshwater marsh area, and then also dig a well both to supply water to keep the pond full year-round, and also to provide water for their citrus trees. This would both allow native fish, turtles, frogs and migrating water birds again to be found in Santa Ana, and also materially reduce the museum’s irrigation expenses. If you or any of your friends have any thoughts or expertise about how to bring either or both of these projects to fruition, please let me know.

So often we all hear people say that they wish we could have preserved more of our past. Well here in Orange County, the Heritage Museum is doing just that. We should each embrace that effort, and help the museum to build upon it. So I wanted to pass along this information to you with the hope and expectation that you would take this challenge personally and help. For more information, please visit www.heritagemuseumoc.org, or contact Colleen Mensel at (714) 540-0404.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)