The Historical Society’s beginnings are tied to pioneer families some of whom immigrated to the Valley prior to the Gold Rush in 1848, others who came after California became a State and helped establish the town of Millerton in the 1850s, and still others who came some time after the railroad was built in the Valley in the early 1870s.
Members of some of these pioneer families were among those called upon at the beginning of WWI to establish the War Records Committee. They stayed together after the Great War to organize the Fresno Historical Society in 1919 because they felt strongly that it was time as a community to begin gathering those things that help document a region --- artifacts, photographs and film, documents, business records, family scrapbooks, letters and postcards, architectural drawings, government documents, books, collections from cultural and civic groups, and oral histories. Early on they wrote of their purpose:
To collect, compile and preserve all written or other records of historical value to California generally or Fresno County and the San Joaquin Valley in particular.
These founders also knew the importance of preserving the region’s story through its architecture and landscape. They were the first advocates of historic preservation in the region and began their work by placing markers at historic sites. Their work expanded to include saving an early piece of Central California’s architectural history----the blockhouse of Fort Miller built in 1851. Later they led the effort to save and then open to the public the last piece of agricultural pioneer M. Theo Kearney’s 19th century estate---- his superintendent’s lodge, its out-buildings, as well as the 230-acre estate grounds that surround them.
The Society’s founders also recognized that an appropriate setting for sharing the story of the Central Valley would contribute significantly to developing a strong sense of identity as a region as well as a strong sense of community. They knew as we know today that museums can play a vital role in society building. And so these founders set a goal back in 1919-----to create a history museum. Today we’re working to make their vision a reality.