Coarsegold’s Historical Gem

This adobe building, part of the Coarsegold Historic Museum, was originally used as a way station for pack mules and freight wagons in the late 1800s.
This adobe building, part of the Coarsegold Historic Museum, was originally used as a way station for pack mules and freight wagons in the late 1800s. Wild Pete Publishing

In an effort to get the word out, to promote new exhibits, and to get the museum “on the map,” the Coarsegold Historic Museum will hold its first-ever open house 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., on Saturday, April 8.

Located on Highway 41, near Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, the museum has recently acquired several new exhibits, and even though last year was a stellar year because of the large busloads traveling through the area, Docent Coordinator Susan Corcoran is hopeful that this year will be even bigger and better.

“This museum offers visitors the chance to view historical items from the area up close and personal,” Corcoran said. “The collection itself is very unique. There’s a schoolhouse where the Chukchansi Indian children were taught, and the Kennedy Barn made of wood that came down the flume in the early 1900s. On one wall, there are photos of old town Coarsegold, which was mostly destroyed by fire. People don’t realize that a hotel and brothel used to stand in downtown where the Coarsegold Pharmacy now sits.”

“We’ve been here about 30 years,” Museum Director Linda Core added, “and we’ve been making improvements. We’ve repaired the original adobe building from the 1880s. The walls were crumbling and the wooden addition was falling apart, but volunteer construction workers have renovated the building, and it’s where we house our most prominent displays. We used to be cramped in the barn, and now we’ve got room to spread out.”

Given its background, the old adobe structure is a historical gem.

“The building was originally used as a way station for pack mules and freight wagons, for blacksmith work and for trading for fresh animals,” Museum docent Lisa Curry explained. “Old-timers claim it was there, possibly in the 1870s. Others claim it was built before the Gold Rush.”

A virtual treasure trove for history lovers, the museum has a room filled with military uniforms and interesting facts dating from the Spanish American War to Vietnam. One room is devoted to Johnny Jones, an area backpacker who lived near the museum his entire life, and took visitors (including Ronald Reagan) on backpacking trips to Yosemite National Park. There’s also a doctor’s buggy, several old stoves, a pump organ, and because it’s a gold mining museum, a couple of wagons on track used for transporting the gold from the mines.

“You can learn about the history of local gold mining and logging here. Do you know there was a French mining area way back in the Quartz Mountain region?,” Corcoran asked. “When Coarsegold was starting up in the gold mining business, a visionary went to France to recruit miners. There was no jet service back then, so it must have been quite a rugged trip from France to Coarsegold.”

The Coarsegold Historic Museum is owned and operated by the Coarsegold Historical Society, an educational nonprofit organization formed in 1981 to study and share the history of Eastern Madera County, particularly Coarsegold.

“When you visit our museum, you revisit your past,” Corcoran explained. “There are so many things there that remind me of my mom, who would have turned 100 this year. There’s a little car like the one my father had as a toy when he was a boy. There’s that magnificent stove - one I would love to have on my patio.”

Each museum piece is marked explaining what it is, giving a little history, the approximate age, and the name of the donor.

One special item, available at the museum’s gift shop, is the book As We Were Told, the compilation of stories of 102 “old time” families, dating back to the early 1800s. The shop also sells Coarsegold Historic Museum T-shirts and license plate frames.

Corcoran hopes the open house will spark an interest in residents to volunteer as a docent. Even though the museum offers self-guided tours, docents are needed to share a passion for the area’s history. Training is provided and the minimum time commitment is four hours per month.

“Most of the people in Coarsegold and Oakhurst don’t even know we exist and we’re trying hard to remedy that,” Core said. “We have several school field trips throughout the year, which helps spread the word, and have placed new signs on Highway 41. We hope the open house will bring the locals out, that they will come to see us. If they do, I think they’ll be surprised.”

“We’re ready for the locals and tourists,” Corcoran added, “so bring them on.”

Museum hours are 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, noon - 4 p.m., Sunday, and 9 a.m. - noon on Monday. Admission to the museum is free.

Anyone interested in becoming a docent can contact Susan Corcoran at (559) 658-7307.