WANDER BACK IN TIME AT THE MILTON GOTTARDI MUSEUM
By Debra Hasbrouck
When I last visited Sierra Valley, I was told that I must see the new museum. The Milton Gottardi Museum was recently moved to its present site in the City Hall Building (which used to be the junior-high school) at 501 School Street in Loyalton. The museum is operated by a staff of volunteers who are dedicated to “preserving the history of the Sierra Valley.”
During the off-season, the museum is open by appointment only. However, curator Jackie Mitchell was happy to accommodate me. I was greeted by her assistant, Gary Nelson, who welcomed me with a friendly smile. Gary turned out to be very entertaining and a wealth of information.
Gary’s grandmother was born on a ranch in Sierra Valley in 1896 and his mom was born in Loyalton in 1920. His mother moved away before Gary was born, but after retiring from the railroad, Gary moved back to the area and is a volunteer at the museum. He has donated numerous items and possesses a great deal of knowledge about trains.
“I love local history and I’m a railroad buff,” he said.
As Gary gave me a tour, he had an interesting story to tell about each exhibit. The museum occupies one wing of the building and it is chock-full of fascinating items. Due to a tremendous effort by volunteers, the museum is absolutely amazing
“This is Jackie’s passion. She has worked tirelessly,” exclaimed Gary. “We’ve had lots of help. People like Kenton and Barbara McHenry have been so generous and both are such hard workers!”
Almost all of the items have been donated over the years. They have an antique “root cutter” that is in excellent condition. It was used for a short time to make livestock feed for someone’s prize bull, then stored for decades under a tarp in a local barn. Gary smiled, “It has the original paint and even the paper label survived.”
Volunteers have done a superb job setting up exhibits depicting local ranching, logging, ice harvesting, and railroads.
There is a huge collection of trains. One display has models of old logging trains and explains the different types of locomotives used.
I was impressed by the ice harvesting display which has some great photos. It also features tools that were used for the strenuous job of providing ice, before refrigerators were in use. “During the winter, out-of-work loggers would cut the ice into blocks and haul it to a warehouse,” said Gary. “They used straw to insulate it and they say they could keep that ice from melting for up to three years.”
One large room has a variety of household items, community memorabilia and clothing from different eras. Most items have a local history, such as an original bed from the old Golden West Hotel, an unusual marble soda fountain and the recent addition of a barber chair donated by Loyalton’s barber, who just retired.
There is also a Native American display that includes the photo of a very old and unique piece, which will be available for viewing soon.
Since the museum is housed in a former school, there is a charming classroom set up, with volumes of yearbooks dating back many decades. People are welcome to come explore the books and to search for photos of themselves, family members or friends.
The most unique display has to be the extraordinary horse-drawn hearse from the late 1800s. Although it’s from Loyalton, apparently a museum in Sacramento had obtained it and wanted to keep it. Milton Gottardi fought to get it back and it is Jackie’s favorite item.
It’s also interesting to note that Sierra County had a female coroner during that time. Some of her dresses are displayed next to the hearse.
There is so much to discover as you meander through the rooms. The volunteers are friendly and knowledgeable…you are guaranteed to learn something.
Entrance is free although they have an old suitcase set up for donations. The museum is open on weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Hours are 10 – 4 on Saturday and 12 – 4 on Sundays. They may add hours on Friday starting this spring.
“But we never turn anyone away,” said Gary. “If you call me or Jackie, someone will try to get there as soon as we can.” Jackie can be reached at +1.530.993.4012 and Gary at +1.530.993.0740.
There is some information about the museum on the city website: www.cityofloyalton.com.