Where Gumbo Was #439
Our guide made it clear, this is not the Williams Museum, it’s the Sacramento Valley Museum, meant to convey the history of a rural region, not simply of the small town in which it’s located. California’s farmers produce more than those of any other state, 13.5% of the agricultural products of the Untied States, so the history of Central Valley farm communities is an important part of the history of life in the country.
When I was a child we visited 2 families of cousins during hot valley summers in Willows, 26 miles north of Williams, about 150 miles from the Bay Area. We drove through Williams but never stopped as far as I can remember. So this trip, to rendezvous with friends and bring my granddaughter home with me, would take me down Highway 20 for my first real look at Williams at the junction of I-5. I decided to leave early and devote an hour to an intriguing-looking building I’d spotted on Google Streetview. I called ahead to make sure they were open, the phone was answered by Dixie La Grande who told me it was, indeed, and made it plain I’d be very welcome.
The building that houses the museum was built in 1911 as Williams High School, classically inspired papyrus-leaf capitals on its pillars, with 2 stories and a dome. It was replaced by a new high school in 1956, then sat empty until 1963 when Williams mover and shaker Lulu Gale Salter was inspired to lead the community in repairing the impressive but disused building and converting it into a regional museum, opened officially in 1964. The building has been preserved and repurposed but not remodeled, so while the former high school contains the Sacramento Valley Museum, it remains preserved as it was with original fittings and finishes.
There were 3 of us visiting in the early afternoon of July 2nd, a local woman waiting for a call from the motor vehicles office, a man from out of the area searching for clues to his family’s life in the area, and me, the accidental tourist. Dixie was our guide and I was thoroughly impressed by her ability to herd 3 disparate souls through the building as she imparted her detailed knowledge of the collection, where each piece fit into the history of life in the Valley and, most impressively, the generations of people who she either knew personally or through family and friendship connections. I had seriously underestimated the time I’d need to glean even an introduction but an hour was what I had and Dixie cheerfully helped me make the most of it.
The General Store
The Blacksmith Shop
The collection fills every room and cranny in the building and is presented in categories, some with signs, some obvious by their contents. The main entrance is up an exterior double flight of stairs to the second floor, there’s a small entry which opens into an auditorium with rooms to each side, all filled with objects representing life in the Sacramento Valley, circa 1850 to 1950. There are interior flights of stairs on each side leading down to the ground floor where you’ll find locker rooms, restrooms and a warren of spaces filled with more displays.
Outside, the star attraction is the Glen Valley Schoolhouse, for 60 years a place to educate young students from farm and ranch families in grades 1 through 8, and when it closed in 1935 there were just 4 students remaining. It ultimately found a home on the grounds of the museum where its restoration was celebrated by a community barbecue in July, 2018. An atmospheric classic one-room school, it reminded me of one near Red Bluff where my Great Aunt Dot and Uncle Clare were the entire teaching staff in the 1950s, 70 miles north.
I could certainly have used more time to fully take in all the museum had to offer, but my allotted hour was up, I had to move on. I said goodbye to Dixie and drove several blocks to the meet-up at Starbucks, just off I-5. My granddaughter and I then did a quick driving tour around downtown Williams, including a stop to have a close look at the Williams Hotel mural Dixie had mentioned. It was an altogether satisfying day, the museum and town, driving through valley farmland, which I love, back into the Sierra Nevada foothills and I’ll admit, best of all, the company of a lovely young woman for the drive home.
This week the Gold Medal goes to ProfessorAbe who guessed Gumbo’s destination in record time. Silver for George G.
Mural Commemorating the Historic Williams Hotel
Sacramento Valley Museum
1491 E Street, Williams, CA 95987
The Museum is open from Mid-March through October
Thursday, Friday & Saturday, 10 to 4 or by appointment.
Admission is free.
You can find more PortMoresby stories here.