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SPECIAL REPORT: Treasures of the Desert Southwest – Pioneers’ Park Museum

Jacqueline Aguilar takes us to the Pioneers’ Park Museum in this Treasures of the Desert Southwest report

IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif. (KYMA, KECY-TV) - The most important mission of the Imperial County Historical Society (ICHS) is the safeguarding and conservation of the Imperial Valley’s heritage.

The Pioneers’ Park Museum showcases the pioneering spirit of the Imperial Valley that welcomed many agricultural prospects and priceless gems to the area.

In 1928, ICHS was formed and throughout the years its collection of history grew and grew.

For some time, all artifacts and galleries were located on the fairgrounds or were scattered around the homes of members of ICHS and other buildings.

The museum’s archivist, Tyler Brinkerhoff, said in the 90s, after many years, the historical society’s vision of creating the foundation for the Pioneers’ museum came to fruition.

“Through their vision, they reached out to each of the various groups of people throughout the Valley," said Brinkerhoff. "The ethnic groups, as well as the cattlemen and agricultural groups and they each donated thousands of dollars to build these buildings here and to make the non-profit of the historical society. It’s through those early donations which helped make the museum what it is today.”

The museum holds an overgrowing, large collection of photographs, documents, and priceless items of the Valley’s rich history.

In their ethnic gallery alone, there are around 15 cultures represented of the settlers that traveled to the Valley.

Brinkerhoff shares what exactly brought many of them to the area.

“One of the stories that I love in the Portuguese gallery is they had heard that California’s streets were paved with gold and when they came here, they found out the gold was dirt. But that was good because they were able to then claim the land for using it for agriculture," shared Brinkerhoff.

Early desert life and generations of different immigrants are displayed throughout the many galleries and exhibits.

There are rooms for showcasing the history of the Imperial Irrigation District, education, and agriculture along with online archives.

Deborah Thornburg, who is the museum’s historian, describes the exhibit that is the crowd favorite.

“The gallery that does receive a lot of attention is the first phase one, our ethnic galleries, which represent all of those groups of people who settled in the imperial valley in the first decade because it is astonishing," said Thornburg. "They came from all over the world! If you go through that gallery you have Japanese, you have east Indian, you have Chinese, Filipino, and Greek. It’s amazing, where they came from to settle in the Valley.”

Thornburg is a proud Imperial Valley local and historian for the museum.

She says so many people plan their visits in advance and are proud to have their heritage on display, even going as far as donating or lending some of their own priceless treasures to the museum to be represented.

“We have a couple of artifacts here that are absolutely priceless," said Thornburg. "We have the original manuscript of the winning Barbara Worth, handwritten by Harold Bill Wright. His family gave it to us, it’s in his gallery. In the Japanese, we have a handmade telescope by Niigata, who discovered a comet. He was a Zanjero and he was out at night looking at the stars and she said, ‘that star wasn’t there!’ and he discovered a comet. And we have that! It’s his handmade telescope. So, those treasures are priceless, priceless. And you know we also have grandmothers quilt, that’s priceless too."

They’re working on a complete digital archive of their collections for all current and future visitors to enjoy.

This would give more recognition to the museum not only in the state of California but across the country.

Thornburg says it is probably the most important thing they are doing right now.

Another long-term goal is expanding the museum as they’re running low on room for all incoming donations.

“We’d like to have a little walking tour so that in the nicer months of the year you can walk around the grounds and have a little guide say, ‘oh look, here’s what I’m looking at, but it’s just making it more appealing and keeping up with the technology as it happens, and that’s something we really need to do,” said Thornburg.

Brinkerhoff sends a message to all current, former, and future visitors.

“The museum is a museum of, by and for all the people and that we encourage anyone who hasn’t been here before, who’s not been here before, to come and see what we have to offer and then share that with their friends and family and neighbors and for those who have been here whether it was yesterday or 30 years ago that there’s always something new to see here at the museum."

You can come celebrate and learn about the Valley’s different ethnic cultures and food by attending their upcoming “Holidays Tours” event on the first weekend in December.

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Jacqueline Aguilar


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