Presenting the Past: A decade in the depot and a silver anniversary | May 29, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - May 29, 2009

Presenting the Past: A decade in the depot and a silver anniversary

by Beverly Lane

On Sunday, June 7, the Museum of the San Ramon Valley will celebrate 10 years in the restored Danville depot. In that decade new exhibits have been mounted, quality programs for schools have served thousands of children, and volunteers have collected fascinating items which reflect the history and culture of the valley.

The museum itself is almost 25 years old. It began in 1985, after a San Ramon Valley Historical Society committee examined steps to provide a museum. The committee decided that it would be best to set up a separate board to create a museum to serve Alamo, Danville, Diablo, San Ramon and Blackhawk. Both organizations' primary objectives are to preserve historical knowledge and provide programs on the San Ramon Valley; the museum was expected to establish and operate a museum with archives, exhibits and a research library.

A 15-member Board of Trustees was set up and by-laws adopted, and the museum was established as a California nonprofit organization. The first meeting on Feb. 27, 1985, was chaired by Irma Dotson, who had headed the Society's feasibility committee. The first elected officers were President Beverly Lane, Vice President Pat Boom, Secretary Betty Overholtzer, and Treasurer Dick Moulds. Others on the initial board, chosen from throughout the valley (and including four members from the society), were Byron Athan, Arnold Blackmur, Bonnie Dailey, Irma Dotson, Jack Estenson, Rose Ferreira, Roz Hirsch, Lowell Hooper, Al Kaplan, Bob Morton and Arlene Pearson.

The trustees visited other history museums and looked at possible museum buildings and sites in the San Ramon Valley. Likely spots on the list were Wood Ranch in Sycamore Valley, Magee Park, Danville depot, Borel Ranch, Tassajara School and Boone Ranch.

As they looked and talked, members also organized walking tours, school programs and annual exhibits. Historical Society members Millie Freitas, Rose Ferreira and Betty Overholtzer (later Dunlap) had given walking tours of downtown Danville and they helped new volunteers learn to provide the tours.

Two school programs began in that decade. One was the Indian Life program based on Gail Faber's special fourth-grade programs and a state-adopted curriculum which she and fellow teacher Michele Lasagna created. It is now provided in the museum each fall.

The other was a living history program for third grades, begun by Joan and Don Kurtz, Patty Connett and Alice Reynolds. The restored Tassajara School became the location for this very popular one-room school experience. This year 2,200 children will step back to 1888 at the school.

In the early nineties, the Danville Fine Arts Gallery (upstairs at the Village Theatre) offered a time for history exhibits. After a 1991 museum exhibit that celebrated the Southern Pacific centennial in the Valley, a new exhibit committee was initiated by Oakland museum history docents Jeanne Aitken, Ginny Iverson, Don and Joan Kurtz and Beverly Lane. From 1992-97, annual chronological exhibits were mounted, which featured Indians, the Hispanic era, ranching, the era of the railroad, the early and later 20th century - six exhibits in all. Carlo Borlandelli, Ralph Cozine, Irma Dotson, Betty and Paul Dunlap, Jack Hamel and Don Wood joined the history docents to create these exhibits and then exhibits in the depot.

When Joe Ramos Jr. passed away in 1987, the Danville depot he had owned for decades became available. The depot became the museum building with the cooperation of the Danville Town Council. Funds were raised by the Alamo-Danville Soroptimists and an energetic brick committee and grants were received from the Cowell Foundation, the J. M. Long Foundation and the East Bay Regional Park District.

A favorite memory for the community was the depot move in 1996, when the Lopez family movers agreed to move the entire building at 10 a.m. one summer Sunday morning. The depot gradually traveled north on Railroad and was place on its current site at the northern end of the original Danville station plot.

Gradually volunteers on the Board of Trustees and its committees have created an organization that is outstanding in the quality of its collections, exhibits and programs. Nearly 200 volunteers make it all happen. Who will forget the California Sesquicentennial Quilt displayed for thousands of visitors in 2000? Or the costumed Amigos de Anza riding horseback down the Iron Horse Trail to the museum in 2007? Or the full-sized bear in the Wildlife exhibit of 2005? Or the mastodon skeleton from UC Berkeley looming over visitors in 2006? To say nothing of the Sword and the Cross, Mt. Diablo Surveys, Valley Firefighting, quilts and vintage costume exhibits.

History books are available on the Danville Grange, Vintage Danville, the Peters Family Ranch ("Footprints in the Soil"), the San Ramon Branch Line of the Southern Pacific, Remembering Alamo and an Images of America photograph book on the San Ramon Valley.

Today the museum has added a unique Local History Curriculum for third-grade teachers and a popular history passport for students and parents. Programs such as the former Whistle Stop Lectures and recent Living Treasures have enriched our Valley. Today, volunteer historic characters research pioneers and enliven the Alamo Cemetery Tours.

Many devoted people and groups helped create the Museum of the San Ramon Valley. Today it is a significant community resource for young and old and an important gathering place in the heart of the valley. A great reason to have a party.

Beverly Lane is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon" and "Vintage Danville: 150 Years of Memories."