The Kearney Site Today
“I am very proud of the state and county that have been my home for thirty-five years. . . .Kearney avenue and Kearney park will be living things of beauty centuries hence that will keep my name and memory green. . . .”
M. Theo Kearney
Fresno Republican, January 1904
What remains of the estate and ranch of M. Theo Kearney is now one of the Central Valley’s most important agricultural historic sites and includes
- 11-mile long Kearney Boulevard
- 230-acre Kearney Park
- Five original structures: Superintendent’s Lodge, Servants’ Quarters, Carriage House, Ice House, and Oil House.
The site lends itself to not only telling the story of the colony farm system and the development of the raisin industry but the story of the development of agribusiness in California’s Central Valley and the Valley’s transformation into the most productive agricultural region in the world.
The Historical Society’s relationship with the site began in 1962, twelve years after the County of Fresno began operating the Kearney estate grounds as a public park. In July of that year, the Society’s President, Edwin Eaton, announced that the organization would begin partnering with Fresno County to care for the Kearney site. Specifically, the Society would take on the administration of the Kearney Superintendent’s Lodge as an historic site museum (known as Kearney Mansion Museum) as well as assume responsibility for the Servants’ Quarters, Carriage House and Ice House.
The first years of administration saw the Society establish its headquarters in the Servants’ Quarters and begin the work of restoring the Superintendent’s Lodge to reflect the Kearney era. M. Theo Kearney inhabited the Lodge from its completion in 1903 until his death in 1906, and by 1962 many of the original artifacts from the house were missing. Thanks to the generosity of many, a significant number of the original pieces that Kearney purchased for the Lodge were located in the 1960s and today the site features over 70% of its original furnishings and décor. By the late 1960s, the museum’s school education program was established and the first public events were being staged.
During the next two decades, the Historical Society partnered with the County of Fresno on two major State-funded preservation grants that transformed the Lodge. An exterior restoration project accomplished structural repairs and returned the building’s exterior to its original light gray color. In the mid-1980s work commenced on interior spaces of the Lodge and included replicating three wallpapers and conserving original ones, restoring all painted surfaces to their original finishes, as well as replicating the main carpet in the house, the Entry Hall’s grape cluster chandelier globes, and the Jacobean Quatrefoil anaglypta ceiling. When the official ceremonies to reopen the museum were held in March, 1986, reproduction carpets in the Reception and Dining Rooms funded by the Society’s La Paloma Guild also made their debut.
Other significant projects were completed through the 90s. Again, State monies received through Fresno County funded the installation of a temperature control system in the Servant’s Quarters and the Superintendent’s Lodge. In a addition, the Historical Society took on the refurbishing of the Carriage House which included restoring the exterior and renovating the interior into a multi-purpose education center. This project was completed through the generosity of Valley families and community businesses.
Over the last ten years funding received through the Fresno County Community Block Grant program enabled new roofs to be installed on the Superintendent’s Lodge, the Servants’ Quarters and the Ice House. The restoration of the Ice House also included the reconstruction of its north adobe wall to stabilize the structure. In 2003 the Superintendent’s Lodge celebrated its centennial and as part of the year-long celebration, Sun-Maid Growers of California sponsored the publication of a 12-page magazine which highlights the history of “M. Theo Kearney and the History of the California Raisin”. The centennial year also included a research project that focused on gathering the stories of people who lived and worked on the ranch during the University of California period.
Today, the Kearney historic site continues to provide a unique venue for interpreting and sharing Central California’s agricultural history and the story of the Raisin King, M. Theo Kearney. Currently, the Fresno Historical Society is laying plans, in partnership with several public and private entities, for an expansion of the site to recreate the historic ranch town as a backdrop to tell the story of the people of the Central Valley and the land -- the Kearney Ranch Project.