Finding History at the Gridley Museum
By Al Rocca
Step Into the Past
Story and photos by Al Rocca
FOR HIGHWAY 99 TRAVELERS a stopover in the town of Gridley may include a quick gasoline fill-up or some fast food from the usual highway chain restaurants. However, if you turn west on Hazel Street and go over the railroad tracks, you will come to the historic downtown. Located on the corner of Hazel and Kentucky streets is the Gridley Museum.
The beautifully preserved corner building originally welcomed bank customers in 1909. Known as the Veatch Building, named for developer H.C. Veatch, rooms upstairs operated as leases to local dentists, doctors and attorneys. As you walk in, you may be impressed with the 15-foot-high tin ceiling tiles. Numerous exhibits spread out in all directions and funnel visitors through a tour of 19th and 20th century life in this Northern California farming community.
Highlights include the wonderfully restored two-seat surrey carriage, historic farm implements and taxidermy specimens of local animals and birds – duck hunting proved a major tourist draw for people including actor-singer Bing Crosby. Museum Curator/Director RuthAnn King maintains the numerous collections and exhibits with an eye for detail and organization. Your eyes are drawn from one display to another in a seamless flow of artifacts and information cards. One card, accompanying a mid-20th century photograph of what appeared to be a conveyor-belt operation, summarized the amazing peach and pumpkin cannery that operated in Gridley for years. Known as the Libby, McNeil Cannery, the enterprise employed 1,500 or more people working together to can enough peaches to fill 15 to 20 carloads of cans per day.
While at the museum, make sure to follow the narrow, steep staircase upstairs. There you will journey back in time to visit the restored professional offices of a dentist, doctor and attorney. Opening the door on Room 8, a visitor immediately sees the traditional dental treatment chair, complete with porcelain spit bowl and an assortment of drills. Peering into the attorney’s office, a prospective customer of the mid-1950s might see what we see today – floor to near-ceiling leather-bound law books overwhelming the wood grain shelves. On the attorney’s desk sits a massive, heavy classic typewriter and a symbolic “scale of justice” occupying its place nearby.
Future plans for the museum call for “ever-changing exhibits…on early families, farming and business life.”
The museum is open to the public and free of charge; donations are appreciated. •
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10am to 2pm
Special tours: Call (530) 846-4482
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