COUNTYWIDE : Little Collections Offer Slice of History

“To know where we’re going, we must know where we’ve been,” says Carol Jordan, chairwoman of the county historical commission.

But ironically, many of the county’s museums that offer a glimpse of where local communities have been are so small that people often don’t know where they are, or even that they exist.

Although there’s no county standard for what constitutes a true museum, Jordan considers almost any local exhibit with labeled displays and regular tour hours a real museum. Several years ago, one San Clemente man with a collection of Richard Nixon memorabilia ran an exhibit out of a local hotel until it changed owners.

The county is peppered with dozens of hidden historical collections, run by dedicated volunteers, mostly amateur historians and collectors, and sponsored by city historical societies.


“At most of local history museums, what they have on exhibit are a lot of photos and artifacts and donations. It’s a community enrichment and the only things preserving our history now are these little collections,” she said.

Often, because of limited resources, the smaller museums cannot check donated items rigorously for authenticity, Jordan said. “You accept the item with the history that the donor gives you. You assume it’s true.”

Armand Labbe, chief curator at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, said that museums, regardless of size, offer a palpable, visual “third dimension” to what he called “essentially a very esoteric, abstract, two-dimensional education” in history.

Museums are important, he said, because they provide visitors with alternative views of life and living. The history, legends and artifacts of another culture allow people to view themselves “from someone else’s perspective.”


Nancy Thatcher, a member of the historical commission and president of the Saddleback Area Historical Society, said that museums are especially important for children and newcomers to the area.

“They know nothing about the history of the area and it’s a golden opportunity for us historians to teach the children and spark their interest. That’s what historians try to do, spark their interest.”

She added that people “really think there isn’t much history around Orange County until they start stopping by some of these museums.”