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November 24, 2015 > Local Museum Celebrates Twenty Years

Local Museum Celebrates Twenty Years

By Lila Bringhurst

Recently the Museum of Local History Guild celebrated twenty years of providing a museum with local artifacts, access to the Dr. Robert B. Fisher collection, other archival collections and docents trained in the history of Washington Township (now called the Tri-City Area).

At a birthday party in the St. Joseph Parish Hall in Mission San Jose, former Fremont mayor, Gus Morrison, was master of ceremonies and introduced local elected officials who spoke briefly: Newark Mayor Al Nagy, Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci, and Councilmember, Lily Mei, who represented Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison.

Morrison told the crowd that he was mayor when the fire fighters moved from the old firehouse on the corner of Anza and Ellsworth Streets to new a new fire station on Paseo Padre Parkway and Pine Street. Kent McClain, FremontÕs city manager at the time suggested that the old firehouse could be used as a museum. Two local historic groups, Washington Township Historical Society and Mission Peak Heritage Foundation, came together to launch the project.

Origins of the Museum
The Country Club of Washington Township, organized in 1897, published the ÒHistory of Washington TownshipÓ in 1904. There have been two subsequent editions, briefly recounting the history of the original towns in Southern Alameda County located in Washington Township: Mission San Jose, Irvington, Union City, Alvarado, Decoto, Centerville, Niles, Warm Springs and Newark.

In 1949 the Country ClubÕs Historical Research Committee morphed into the Washington Township Historical Society. And, in 1965, Mission Peak Heritage Foundation grew out of the Fremont Historical Resources Committee, which had been created by the City of Fremont. Members from both organizations met with Fremont city staff to create a plan for the museum. On May 21, 1990 the Fremont city council voted to remodel the former fire station at 190 Anza Street as a museum. Both groups signed the lease. After much hard work they celebrated with a grand opening on October 14, 1995.

The First Museum Board
Phil Holmes, first president of the museum guild, was the honored guest at the celebration. A member of both historical groups, an avid historian and principal of Gomes School, he had worked with local historian, Dr. Robert Fisher, and taught a class about local history at Ohlone College. Holmes took time recently to write about the 1995 board of directors:

ÒThe board of the newly-formed Museum of Local History Guild was composed of members of the two historical societies.

ÒCecilia Weed, vice president, was a long-time president of Washington Township Historical Society. Her friend, Betty Ann Dunseath, joined the board as treasurer. She was a member of the historical society and had worked with Cecilia to preserve local artifacts.

ÒMollie Sinclair, secretary, had written and published the ÒHeritage Cookbook of Washington TownshipÓ which featured the recipes and histories of many local families. Her husband, John Stevenson, descended from a local pioneer family and was the first mayor of Fremont.

ÒAnn Power, display coordinator, taught at Gomes School and was very interested in local history. She worked with museum experts to develop the first museum design. She and her husband, Randy, volunteered many hours at the museum.

ÒSherry Nighswonger, acquisition director, was president of Mission Peak Heritage Foundation and secretary of the editorial board that produced the book, ÒThe City of Fremont: The First Thirty Years,Ó which is still available at the museum gift shop.

ÒRegina Dennie, docent coordinator, was a native of Mission San Jose, a member of both historical groups and an avid history buff.Ó

Looking Forward
During the celebration Gil Garza, current president of the museum board, recognized the work of volunteers at the museum and mentioned a number of projects that are currently underway. Patricia Schaffarczyk, volunteer curator, recently facilitated updating the museumÕs website and Facebook page. With a grant from the Despeaux Good Works Fund from East Bay Community Foundation, matched by the Regina Dennie Memorial Fund, Kelsey Camello has continued SchaffarczykÕs work of cataloging and processing of collections. Recently the museum received a grant to help archive the Niles Essanay Silent Film MuseumÕs 9000-reel collection of silent films. Matching donations are needed to continue that project.

Under the leadership of Dianne Holmes and Margery Begley, student tours have become popular at the museum and at the Rancho Higuera Historical Park in Warm Springs. Timothy Swenson and Caroline Harris have led tours of historic districts in the Tri-Cities. The museum receives a continuous stream of historic items, documents and photographs donated by current and past residents of the area. In fact the museum is now bursting at the seams and is looking for additional space.

Recently the board changed the name of the museum to the Washington Township Museum of Local History in order to identify the museumÕs geographic focus. The public is invited to visit the museum at 190 Anza Street on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and also the second Saturday and Sunday of each month, same hours.

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