Learning About History the Hard Way, and Loving It

Patrick Mott is a free-lance writer who lives in Santa Ana. His work appears regularly in Orange County Life

Their mothers never would have believed it: A handful of grade-school kids happily doing laundry. Hard laundry. The kind of laundry that has to be rolled through a wooden wringer by hand. Muscular laundry.

That's the way it was done in Orange County at the turn of the century, and that's the way it's still done at the Discovery Museum of Orange County, a hands-on nugget of the past in southern Santa Ana where children can wring out laundry, operate a telegraph key, try on Victorian clothing, churn butter and generally wallow in the county's history.

The centerpiece of the museum property--which includes 12 acres of land near Centennial Park--is the H. Clay Kellogg House, a gingerbready relic from 1898 that has been meticulously restored and converted to a kind of latter-day playpen for the historically curious. A stylistic combination of Victorian and classical revival architecture, the house stood until 1980 at the corner of Walnut and Orange streets in Santa Ana. After being moved to its present site, it was restored by volunteers and now serves as a showcase for such artifacts as an antique piano, communication instruments, kitchen artifacts, clothing, architectural displays, period furniture, various inventions of the time and other items particular to Orange County in the early 1900s.

"It's designed to be a hands-on experience for schoolchildren," said Susan Moore-Laux, the museum's program director, "so even though we have some delicate things here, we don't want to say, 'Don't touch.' If something's particularly delicate, we make a duplicate of it so people can handle the duplicate."

Many children, she said, take real delight in such formerly drudging chores as beating a rug, peeling apples or pumping a butter churn.

Next to the Kellogg House are rose gardens and a citrus orchard where visitors on tours can pick and taste the varieties of fruit that once were Orange County's agricultural staples.

Tours offered to schoolchildren--they're designed for students ages 7 to 12--include "Petticoats, Butterchurns and Jacks" and last either 1 1/2 hours or 4 hours. Also offered are four Scout and youth group tours, focusing on county history, Victorian technology and inventions, and the textile and agriculture industries. Facilities for Victorian birthday parties for children and wedding receptions are also available.

"The kids respond wonderfully," Moore-Laux said. "A lot of them come back on the weekends with their parents."

While the museum attracts between 12,000 and 15,000 visitors a year, Moore-Laux said the project as originally envisioned isn't close to being complete. To fulfill its mission to "improve the scientific literacy and historical knowledge of Orange County students, residents and visitors," a major science museum has been planned by the nonprofit museum organization.

Still in the early planning stages, the scientific component of the museum, like the historical section, would be funded by corporate, foundation and private donors. Moore-Laux said she and her colleagues would like to see the museum, which she described as "something on the large scale of the Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles," developed on the museum's land near the Kellogg House, but added that plans for construction elsewhere are also being considered.

For now, efforts are going into raising funds for the project. And the first fund-raising event, a complement to the museum's "Discover Aviation" month, are two lecture appearances Saturday by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, the pilots who flew the experimental aircraft Voyager nonstop around the world without refueling.

An afternoon lecture and visual presentation by the pilots, scheduled at the Irvine Hilton at 2:30 p.m., will be designed for students, teachers and families, Moore-Laux said, and admission will be $5. An evening presentation beginning at 7 p.m., designed for adults and including dinner and a reception, costs $75 per ticket.


Where: 3101 W. Harvard St., Santa Ana.

What: A museum of artifacts, inventions, architectural examples, agriculture and design focusing on the historical past of Orange County and its residents. Includes many hands-on displays and demonstrations.

Hours: Tours for schoolchildren and youth groups arranged from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Advance reservations required for tours. Open to the public Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m..

Tours: "Petticoats, Butterchurns and Jacks," designed for school-age children ($2 per person for basic 1 1/2-hour tour, $4.50 per person for deluxe 4-hour tour. Minimum 15 persons). Two-hour Scout and youth group tours also available ($2.75 per person, minimum 12 persons). Weddings and children's birthdays also arranged.

Admission to public: $1 donation for adults, 50 cents for children 12 years and under.

Information and reservations: 540-0404, PATRICK LYNCH / Los Angeles Times

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World