Weaverville’s J.J. ‘Jake’ Jackson Museum and Highland Art Center Celebrate 50 years
By Jon Lewis
Painting the Past
Story and Photos by Jon Lewis
TRINITY COUNTY'S RICH HISTORY is populated with stories of hearty pioneers and tales of rough-and-tumble mining and logging exploits, but there’s also ample evidence of the county’s efforts to foster and celebrate the fine arts.
Both sides of that coin will be honored this month with a picnic to mark the 50th anniversary of Weaverville’s J.J. “Jake” Jackson Museum and the Highland Art Center. Both institutions are central to a small town and a rural county that values its history and art.
“It’s our museum’s 50th anniversary and it was built in 1968, the year Highland Art Center opened up, so we thought a joint celebration is in order,” says Jim French, the former Trinity County schools superintendent who serves on the Trinity County Historical Society’s board of directors. “We’ll celebrate the first 50 years and look forward to the next 50.”
There’s a lot to look back on and a lot to look forward to. The museum, at 780 Main St., was dedicated on June 23, 1968, realizing a vision that J.J. “Jake” Jackson, a dry goods store clerk, began forming prior to the start of World War I.
Back then, Jackson helped oversee a small-but-growing collection of antique firearms and other pioneer relics that had been stored at the Memorial Hall. After that building was lost to a fire (a common occurrence before brick buildings became commonplace), the artifacts were stored in the basement of the courthouse (which itself dates back to the 1860s and is the second-oldest operating courthouse in California).
Recurrent flooding in the courthouse basement kept the artifacts at risk until the museum, a project spearheaded by the late Hal Goodyear, one of the founders of the Trinity County Historical Society, was built. Leonard and Florence Morris, part of another pioneering family, also were instrumental in establishing both the museum and the art center.
Thanks to Goodyear’s drive and vision, the museum was a dynamic enterprise almost from the start. Dero Forslund, the museum’s director, notes that museum has expanded to include a research center, a carriage house, a functioning blacksmith shop and the Hal Goodyear History Park.
Mary Ellen Grigsby, president of the historical society, says the research center is designed to allow people to learn about family histories, old mining claims, court records and other historical tidbits.
Volunteers at the museum have been working to digitize old issues of the Trinity Journal and other newspapers dating back to 1850 as well as court and probate records that also date back to the 1800s.
“It’s a good five-year project and we’ve been at it for a year and a half,” Grigsby says. “It’s a huge amount of information. We’re using optical character recognition software so people can search for keywords. We hope to put it online eventually as a research tool.”
The museum staff and volunteers take pride in bringing Trinity County’s history to life, including the ongoing blacksmithing classes it offers and the regional “hammer-in” it hosts each March that attracts blacksmiths from all over the country.
Other interactive exhibits include the steam-powered paymaster stamp mill which is fired up a half-dozen times a year, including during the popular Fourth of July festivities. An original horse-drawn stagecoach from the Weaverville-to-Redding run (the same route where the infamous Ruggles brothers robbery occurred) is another popular exhibit, Grigsby says.
An old sawmill recovered from the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area near Denny, which was used to construct flumes for hydraulic mining in the New River drainage, is an exhibit-in-progress. “That’s our next project to get that set up but we’re going to need some grants,” Grigsby says. “It does run but we need to be able to do it safely. It’s from the turn of the century and they were not big on OSHA standards back then. We want to keep the integrity of it, though. One of our values is to have this stuff operating so people can see it in action.”
Sawing timbers and blasting apart hillsides in search of gold is a big part of Trinity County’s history, but so is a recognition of art as a key component to the health of a community. In the minds of Lucille and Gil Snyder, art was a necessity, not a luxury, and that belief motivated them to purchase a Victorian home on Main Street across from the museum and establish the Highland Art Center and the Snyder Foundation.
“Gil and Lucille had a vision—that Weaverville would be more than a timber town—and they poured their heart and soul into it,” says Shanna Franceschini, the art center’s director.
The Highland remains a thriving cultural center that’s home to a spacious gallery featuring monthly exhibits, six studios and a beautiful meadow that serves as the setting for weddings and other community events.
“I just love the gallery and feel it is something that is really special in this town. There’s just been so much growth from the beginning to what it is now,” says Jane Belden, a longtime Weaverville artist and president of the Highland Art Center board.
Throughout the month of June, the gallery will feature works by noted glassblower Michael Hopko and photographer Michelle James. Throughout July, the gallery will exhibit selected works from the museum’s collection. •
50th anniversary barbecue picnic
June 9, 2 pm, Highland Art Center meadow
Free for historical society and art center members, $5 for others
trinitymuseum.org • highlandartcenter.org