An Easy Escape to Yesteryear: The Heritage Museum of Orange County

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By Les Goldberg

Are you tired of fighting traffic? Do you yearn for a return to a simpler life? No, this is not an advertisement for real estate in the country. Instead, this story is about a fast and easy way to spend a few hours away from the stressful world of today’s lifestyles.

In the center of Orange County, within a few-minutes’ drive from anywhere in Southern California, is a quiet, historical and beautiful example of what life was like in the region more than 100 years ago. I believe that you will find, as I did, a hidden treasure that can be discovered on a day trip – The Heritage Museum of Orange County at 3101 W. Harvard St. in Santa Ana.

Once you turn off Fairview Avenue onto Harvard, you leave the traffic and signals behind as you enter the 12-acres of land containing floral gardens, citrus groves, Victorian homes and buildings, old-fashioned plazas, a blacksmith shop surrounded by antique horse-drawn wagons, and a nature preserve known as the Gospel Swamp.

After leaving your vehicle, you will be taking a pleasant stroll, beginning with the formal and ornate front gate which leads to the museum’s main attractions. As you walk through the shaded arbor your sense of sight and smell will be aroused by the aromatic Jasmine, adjacent orange groves and seasonal Concord grapes. Nearby, you will be dazzled by the 11 varieties and more than 200 rose bushes blooming in the sunlight.

Further along the paths, you can experience “organic gardening” at its best in the museum’s vegetable garden featuring carrots, onions, radishes, corn, squash, pumpkins and a variety of fresh produce. Don’t worry, there are plenty of trees, shady lawns and seating to stay cool and relaxed on a hot summer day.

Several of the historic buildings and artifacts have been moved to the site for restoration and preservation, including the centerpiece Kellogg House built in 1898. It was home to three generations of Kelloggs prior to the family’s donation to the museum. Hiram (H. Clay) Kellogg was a native Californian born in Gold Country in 1855 who moved to Anaheim with this family at age 13 and joined the family farming business before opening retail stores in Santa Ana and going to college to earn a degree in civil engineering. His two-story Victorian-style home serves as a cultural artifact containing several antiques.

The historic Maag House with its water tower and carriage barn were moved to the site in 1982. With its 12 rooms occupying 5,000 square feet, the main house is the largest building on the museum grounds. John Maag owned an 80-acre citrus ranch on land that is now the Fairhaven Cemetery. He founded the Santiago Citrus Growers Association which later merged with other growers to become Sunkist, Inc. The restored water tower now serves as a gift shop.

Visitors also can participate in the many workshops and events sponsored by the museum throughout the year. Programs include live demonstrations of gardening to maintain the rose garden and citrus groves.

One of my favorite attractions is the county’s only remaining blacksmith shop. The Orange County Blacksmith’s Guild of Santa Ana keeps the trade alive through educational and apprenticeship programs that utilize a working smithy. A favorite among the women is the Victorian Tea Society, a fundraising auxiliary for the museum that holds authentic Victorian teas, complete with traditional costumes and dishes.

The last surviving freshwater marsh in Santa Ana, the Gospel Swamp, which is undergoing a major upgrade, is home to a variety of animals, including coyotes, red tail hawks, rabbits, egrets, ducks and other waterfowl.

Other programs in cultural history, environmental education, literature and scouting are designed for all ages. According to museum executive director Candace Chromy, volunteers are welcome for a variety of duties.

For more information about the museum or volunteering, go to www.heritagemuseumoc.org.

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Les Goldberg, APR is an award-winning, experienced journalist and public relations practitioner. His firm, Les Goldberg Public Relations, is one of Southern California’s pioneer public relations agencies specializing in high technology and consumer electronics.

Today, in addition to his agency and teaching responsibilities, Les is a columnist for senior publications, including his popular “The Gadget Geezer” column which appears in Senior Reporter, Not Born Yesterday, Life After 50, Examiner.com and OCActiveSeniors.com. As a full-time journalist, he was a staff writer for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Glendale News-Press, Culver City Star-News, Stars & Stripes Europe, OC Metro, OC Home & Outdoors and Digital Photographer.

Visit Les’s site at www.LesGoldberg.com.

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