Monday, September 13, 2010

Promote our heritage - By Judge Jim Gray

My column on July 5, 2009, cited the Heritage Museum of Orange County as being a gem, but one that needed more attention and polishing. Since then, I have accepted a position on its board of directors and have been rolling up my sleeves with polishing rags in hand. It is the purpose of this column to encourage you to join us in that effort.

According to its mission statement, the Heritage Museum is a cultural and natural history center dedicated to preserving, promoting, and restoring the heritage of Orange County and the surrounding region through quality hands-on educational programs for students and visitors of all ages.

And that is what we do.

Our primary function is to educate elementary school children about what life was like in Orange County in the 1890s and early 1900s, and every year about 20,000 children are bused to the museum to spend about four hours with us. During that time, they go on a tour of our Kellogg House, which was built in Santa Ana in 1898, and are shown how to make butter and quilts, and wash clothes with a washboard, observe the setting of a formal dinner table, learn proper table etiquette while eating, play with some of the children's toys of that era and dress up in period clothing.

In the Gold Rush program, students are also taken on a "trip" from Independence, Mo., to the gold fields of California. But before they leave they have to plan for the trip and buy the essentials they will need. Their journey ends at our stream where they explore our gold mine, pan for gold and are taught to yell, "Eureka!" when they find their own gold nugget.

Since this is a "hands-on" museum, the children are also able to touch and use our pump organ and native "artifacts," participate in a traditional "round" dance and make a ceremonial rattle to take home. They also see our working blacksmith shop and are sometimes given some of its creations, like a nail or a block of wood with a "brand" on it.

But we have so much more potential, because the museum sits on an 11-acre site and only about a third of the property is really being used. So at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, we will have a meeting at the museum for people who might be interested to help us develop the museum's potential. At that time we will walk the grounds, discuss some of the possibilities and form subcommittees for about 12 varied, interesting and challenging projects.

For example, only the inside of one of our two Victorian houses, the Kellogg House, has been restored. The Maag House, which was built in 1899, has not yet been restored, and one of our subcommittees will be dedicated to that project. We already have interest from Taller San Jose in helping in this project. This fine Orange County organization teaches at-risk young adults the trade of carpentry, and they can use our Maag House restoration project as an opportunity to teach students their new craft.

Another subcommittee will look into the possibility of digging a water well on our site. For the last two months it cost us $1,700 just to irrigate the orange trees and other plants on the premises, and we can help our financial situation significantly by reducing that bill. But even more importantly, we have the only two remaining "wetlands" in Santa Ana, and we plan to clean out all non-native plants, and use our new well to pump water into them, after which they will be re-stocked with frogs and native fish. These ponds were also once used by large numbers of migrating birds, and we believe they will be again.

The museum also has plans to install a formal garden of native water-wise plants. Normally whenever people think of water-wise plants they think of cactus and succulents, but many other more formal plants also use reduced amounts of water. So one of our subcommittees will take on the planting of such a garden, and educating the local community about how this can be done.

As stated above, our blacksmith shop is operational and it produces lots of useful tools and other implements. But the doorway to it only provides limited visibility for the school children to observe the smithies in operation. The subcommittee to expand the blacksmith shop will enlarge the viewing area to fix that problem.

As far as we know, at present, there are no farmers markets in Santa Ana. So one of our subcommittees will explore the possibility of setting one up every week on our property. (Parking is not a problem!) As you know, farmers markets spread lots of good things around the community in addition to natural and healthier foods at a lower cost, and this is what we want to bring to the people in and near the Santa Ana area.

And talk about history? One of our projects is to develop a quarterly speakers series for people who have roots in Orange County who will reminisce about what has happened here over the last century. Where better can this happen than at the Heritage Museum?

The possibilities are almost endless. We have a natural setting for an amphitheater that could seat 500 or more people and could be used for scouting or other community events. We also have hives of honey bees, but need a subcommittee to help us to develop and increase the potential of Heritage Museum honey and community education about bees. We even have room for three additional Victorian houses!

The Heritage Museum is in the process of developing a master plan, but we need your energy and guidance to help us create a broader and more lasting legend! So join us at the museum and bring a friend with you who might also be interested. It's not required, but I would appreciate your sending me an e-mail in advance so we can prepare a nametag for everyone. The address is 3101 W. Harvard St., Santa Ana, and our website is


And by the way, put on your calendar that we will be having a Family Festival of Bluegrass and Americana Music at the Heritage Museum from 1 to 7:30 p.m. May 22, 2011. Like everything else connected with the Heritage Museum, it will be sensational!

And if you get the chance, tune in at noon or 7:45 p.m. Sunday to C-SPAN's Book TV show to see the book signing discussion about my new book "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), or you could record the show when it is rebroadcast at 3:45 a.m. Monday.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the composer of the high school musical revue "Americans All" (Heuer Publishing), and can be contacted at or through his website at


bud oracle said...

Thank you for all your work, Judge Jim Gray. From my own experience growing up, a live connection to our heritage through visiting "living" museums and restored forts, I received a valuable lesson about perspectives and shifting social values. Without such context many children/adults would be doomed to live in the propaganda tainted now.

Anonymous said...

You are doing such important work Judge Gray. Thank you for continuing to put your time where your mouth is!!!!! You inspire me!