I was house sitting in Tracy, CA, staying with two adorable little dogs and working on my book. Other than two daily thirty minute walks with the pups, I mostly stayed indoors. After five or six days in the house, I decided I had to get out and do something different.
I’d checked out the things to do in Tracy before I rolled into town, and there wasn’t much on the list. However, I did see there was a historical museum in the town, and admission was free. Score! I headed to the Tracy Historical Museum (1141 Adam Street) on my day out.
The museum is housed in a building that was originally a post office. Built in 1937, the building became a rec center in 1967. The museum took over the space in 2003.
The museum is very clean, bright, and well organized. The information given is easy to read. The long, narrow room on the left houses display cases on either wall. The artifacts in those cases are described adequately; I felt I was able to really understand what I was looking at and its context within the area’s history. When I explored the main room in the middle of the museum, well, not so much.
In the middle room, artifacts were grouped in sort of vignettes. There was a kitchen vignette complete with life-size housewife mannequin, a mannequin dressed in a nightgown and sleeping cap, and a child-seize mannequin dressed all in white. (Was the child mannequin wearing a nightgown? A baptismal gown?) There was also a “farming” vignette, showing implements for working the land from back in the day.
My problem with these vignettes is that various items from various time periods are displayed with little explanation of what they are, what they were used for, or what time period they were used in. For example, the caption for a photo of the kitchen vignette from the museum’s brochure reads,
Kitchen display of household goods from the late 19th–early 20th century, among period photographs, artifacts and memorabilia from Tracy’s railroad and farming heydays.
Although “late 19th–early 20th century” narrows things down a bit, it’s still a little broad. There’s no indication if a cup from 1873 is sitting next to a plate from 1913. Also, items seem to be displayed willy-nilly. Why is there a rolling pin on a table that otherwise appears to be set for a meal? What are those items jumbled on the shelves beyond the table?
What’s the difference between an old “household good” and an “artifact”? Doesn’t throwing (or even placing carefully) household goods, photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia all in one display make for quite a hodgepodge? The Tracy museum seems to be working under the false assumption that every old item it owns must be displayed at all times, whether or not it can help tell the story of the town’s history.
Past the kitchen display is a small display of old dolls. Creepy! Especially creepy was the life size (“five foot”) doll sitting in a rocking chair. There were explanatory notes with this doll. The notes are in the photos, and I was able to zoom in and read them. The doll’s name is Leila. She is named after Leila Smith whose “1880 dress” she is wearing. The doll was made in the late 1980s, which means she’s younger than I am. The wicker chair the doll is sitting in “was donated by the Cordes family,” but no indication is given as to who the Cordes family is, why they might be important, how old the chair is, or why it might be historically significant.
My favorite items in the museum are in a back room. In addition to an old bank vault and other office equipment, several antique typewriters are on display. The typewriters look to be in good condition, and it seems as if a modern writer could sit down in front of one of them and churn out the Great American Novel.
In the museum, I found a brochure for “Historic Downtown Tracy.” The brochure includes a map and information about “the Historic Buildings of Downtown Tracy.” I like self-guided (translation: free) walking tours, so I decided to follow the route in the brochure.
According to the brochure, Tracy was founded on September 8, 1878 and was incorporated in 1910.
In the 1870s, the Central Pacific Railroad…moved its operations from the Ellis coaling station at the foot of the Altamont hills, three miles eat to the junction with the rail line from Martinez…Tracy was…built around the intersecting railroad tracks…
I walked the tour in reverse of the layout in the guide because I started walking from the museum instead of driving to the starting point on E. 6th Street and beginning there. The first historic building I saw was the Tracy Inn. The brochure says,
When the transcontinental Lincoln Highway was routed through Tracy along 11th Street, the Tracy Inn was built to capture the trade of motorists.
The Tracy Inn was designed in the California Mission Style and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
After walking several block on Central Avenue, and passing the Grand Theatre (which will get a post all its own),I turned down 7th Street to see the old city Hall and Jail, which is also on the National Register of Historic Places. The brochure says,
This uniquely designed building housed the courthouse and city hall from 1900 until 1917 and the jail until 1940. Those arrested were held in two jail cells and faced the judge in the single room courthouse for sentencing. More serious criminal cases were sent to the county seat in Stockton.
No indication is given as to what exactly is unique about the design of this building.
After another walking another block on Central Avenue, I turned down 6th Street and followed it down to stand in front of the building which originally housed the West Side Bank. This building is also on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the brochure,
Abe Grunauer, a leading merchant, landowner and Tracy’s first Mayor, started the West Side Bank in 1910. The Neo-classical Revival architecture features Corinthian pillars, an arched entrance with a copper door frame and a blue limestone facade.
I wouldn’t say I had a bad time at the Tracy Historical Museum or on the walking tour of the historic buildings of downtown Tracy. However, I wouldn’t say I had a lot of fun either. I kind of felt as if I were on an assignment for a class. I suppose someone really interested in California history would enjoy such an excursion a lot more than I did.
I took all of the photos in this post.