A museum is so much more than a building full of dusty artifacts. It is the keeper of a community’s memories.
Throughout Kern County’s 8,163 square miles, you can visit more than a dozen different museums, each one providing its own unique story in Kern’s past.
Many of Kern’s small-town museums are also lasting reminders of what is possible when communities come together for the greater good of present and future generations. The far eastern corners of Kern County are home to two of these small-town museums.
The Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, named after the highest peak in the Argus Range, is known worldwide for its Coso petroglyphs tour. But the museum started as a community endeavor to showcase Ridgecrest and China Lake’s histories.
In October 1961, a group of citizens got together to discuss plans for a museum. The group quickly learned that it would not be an easy task. Rhea Blenman, one the museum’s first managers and project leaders, informed The Californian on Nov. 28, 1962, that, “We’ve learned since that time out that there’s more to opening a museum than placing a collection of articles on display.”
What the planning committee also quickly learned was that it was going to take the help of the community to make the dream a reality.
The Maturango Museum was possible due to the efforts of the ordinary people of the community, a group Blenman described as those “who simply want to provide for our community a center of historic culture, a facility that will reflect the true background of the area in which we live.”
After one year of hard work and with the support of the United States Navy, the Maturango Museum opened its doors to the public on Dec. 1, 1962. Originally housed in a Quonset hut on the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, the museum’s exhibits were designed to reflect a period of more than a million years in the development of the upper Mojave Desert.
The museum committee broke ground on its current location at 100 E. Las Flores Ave. in 1983. Just as it did in 1962, the museum continues to strive to present the public exhibits that “reflect the past of the region as well as a boundless faith in its future.”
The Twenty Mule Team Museum in Boron is also the result of small-town community spirit working toward a common goal. In October 1975, the Boron Chamber of Commerce Museum Committee was formed to plan the fundraising efforts to create a museum to commemorate Boron’s important role in the development of borax mining. Within six months, the committee raised over $8,000 to use toward purchasing land. The funds were raised solely through fundraising and small donations from residents. In a town with a population of 3,800, this was quite a feat. No large donations were made to the committee as all money was raised through two flea markets, two dinners with benefit shows, a walkathon and raffles.
Betty Dyson, co-chair of the committee, stated in the Jan. 27, 1977, Californian, “We just wanted to prove to ourselves that we really wanted the museum.”
By November 1977, the committee started raising further funds for a museum building. Once again the community came together and hosted a “dime-a-dip” dinner at Boron High School and operated a Christmas tree lot. When Paul Sigman offered to sell the committee an old home in Aerial Acres and move it to museum property on Twenty Mule Team Road for $1,000, it jumped at the chance.
Once again, community members raised the money through $100 pledges from 10 members of the Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Borax provided a $10,000 gift to help renovate the house. The Twenty Mule Team Museum officially opened its doors on Aug. 4, 1984, thanks to the hard work of endless volunteers.
Museums have a very important role in every community. They are the keepers of the past, the informers of the present and the preservers of the future. And they can also tell us a lot about the character of the communities that built them. ￼