LANDMARKS / COUNTY HISTORICAL SITES : A Museum With the Personal Touch

HISTORY: The Lechler family settled in Piru Canyon in the 1860s. They farmed and later kept honeybees. Third-generation descendant Harry Hazard Lechler has always lived in Piru. He and his wife, Margaret, built the two-story stucco home when they married in 1937. The museum building was added in 1969, using their life savings.

* LOCATION: 3886 Market St., two blocks from downtown Piru.

* HOURS: Call 521-1595 for appointment. Admission is free.

In about 1943, Harry Lechler began to think of his collection as fit for a museum.

He had the old six-shooter his grandfather, who drove the Butterfield Stage, used in a shootout with a gang of outlaws; his dad's shotgun, branding iron and harness tools; and correspondence between his wife's aunt and Grace Coolidge.

His hunting pals began bringing trophies and relics to keep in the room he had set up to display them.

Word spread, and artifacts began coming from all over town. Most people who viewed the assortment thought of something they might add to it, and Lechler accepted everything that was offered. He still does.

"You never want to turn anything down--then they'll say you don't need something else that you really might want," he said.

He considers all items a trust and never sells anything that is donated. This has resulted in a collection of thousands of items, which outgrew the house, garage and sheds, and required the addition of a museum building.

Since his retirement from running a general store in Piru, Lechler, 79, has restored items to add to the collection.

Among those he has acquired from Piru's early days are Chumash baskets, arrows and tools; part of a medicine man's headdress; the bell from the old Temescal School; antique farm implements; and three Italian leaded-glass windows from the town's first Catholic church, which was dismantled when the mortar deteriorated.

Beyond local items, benefactors have brought donations from around the world. There are poison arrows from New Guinea, a copper ax blade traced to the Incas, a whale's rib and the stretched skin of an 18-foot boa constrictor.

Sandwiched among these exotic items are distinctly American ones: a 1920s jukebox, a huge copper still, several Victrolas, an early gumball machine and dozens of farm implements.

A special feature of the museum is the personal account of history told to visitors by the curator. Lechler recounts the shootout at the stage stop as well as his own experiences as Piru deputy constable and volunteer firefighter. He also demonstrates folk tunes on his collection of vintage harmonicas.

"I ask how much time they've got to spend, and if they want the short tour or the whole 2 1/2 hours," he said. "Usually, they say, 'We can only stay an hour,' but before they're out of here, two have gone by."

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