It was not a coincidence when a group of local history enthusiasts came together to establish the Merced County Historical Society Advisory Committee in 1955 -- the year the county celebrated its centennial.
The founding members of this organization were Bill Woxberg, Emmet McNamara, George Mack, and others. Their mission was to maintain a history museum in the "rock house" at the Merced County Fairgrounds.
On February 19, 1962, at the invitation of Merced Mayor Gyle Miller, members of the Historical Advisory Committee met at the Hotel Tioga to discuss the creation of a Historical Library and Museum for the city of Merced. On May 1, Merced County Historical Society was established as a non-profit corporation.
Arnold V. Henderson, the financial officer of the city, became the first president.
Between 1962 and 1974, the Historical Society remained dormant while the Historical Advisory Committee became the main body for evaluating and preserving local historic landmarks and records.
"In 1975, the Historical Society began its active role with a membership drive," recalls the Society Membership Chairperson Roberta Saling, "That was when I became a charter member."
Other original charter members who maintain an active membership include Frank Bartholome, David Bultena, Ralph and Bunny Busby, Janet Cross, Elizabeth Fretz, Shirley Kirby, Wendell Olson, Margaret Randolph, and Caryl Wayne.
Also in 1975, the society's board of directors began to hold regular monthly meetings with the intention of establishing and maintaining a history museum.
In 1976, the society entered an agreement with Merced County to operate a museum in the old courthouse. In 1983, the Merced County Courthouse Museum was dedicated with full restoration of the building.
The Courthouse Museum's permanent and temporary exhibits reflect the diverse and rich heritage of Merced County.
Today, the Historical Society, in partnership with Merced County, operates the Courthouse Museum. Education is one of the major goals of the Historical Society.
This is accomplished through several programs. Grants and scholarships are awarded each year to encourage research and writing. History trunks on "The Yokut Indians," "Childhood, Then and Now," "The Dust Bowl" and "Merced's Chinatown" are loaned to schools to bring Merced's past into the classrooms.
One of the most popular efforts of the museum's educational programs is the School Tour program. Within the last three weeks, close to 800 elementary school students toured the museum as part of their social studies curriculum.
The museum is able to achieve its mission because of the large number of individuals who support its goals.
An army of museum volunteers runs the museum's daily operations. They are the museum's driving force. With energy and commitment, these "public historians" help to educate our students as well as Merced County residents and visitors.
The Historical Society has been one of the leading advocates in efforts to save historically significant landmarks including the Mondo Building, the old High School library and Merced Theatre.
One of the first saved was the old County Courthouse in 1966. Original plans for the new county office building included building over parts of Courthouse Park. Strong protests by the public lead to the preservation and restoration of this historic building and resulted in its conversion into a history museum.
Being a countywide organization, the Historical Society understands the importance of supporting the growth of other local historical societies and museums to preserve and interpret Merced County history. Resources and information are often shared.
As a result of collaboration and networking, Merced County's sesquicentennial was displayed and celebrated in the Courthouse Museum in 2005.
As the Historical Society celebrates 50 years of preserving local history, it is important to thank the community for its continued support.
On June 9, a community celebration will be held in the Courthouse Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be food, old-fashioned games, a community concert band, museum tours, dancing horses, a Mexican dance troupe, an antique tractor show, Valley Vintage Car Show, informational booths and craft sales.
The official ceremony to honor the society's charter members will begin at noon. Entertainment will follow, and anniversary cake and ice cream will be served. For more information please call (209) 723-2401 or visit our website at www.mercedmuseum.org.