Chester Museum preserves Almanor Basin History
In Plumas County, the long months of winter going into summer are the perfect indoor time to explore historic beginnings in local museums.
Incorporated in 1854, this widely diverse county, filled with rugged canyons, grassy meadows and more than 100 lakes, drew varied people from many occupations from around the world.
Community by community guests will find remembrances of different explorers from Peter Lassen to Jim Beckwourth to the early Spanish soldiers as well as Chinese miners, the native Maidu and families pioneering in the fields of ranching, timber and railroads.
In most instances, the option to tour the many facets of Plumas County history is likely available due to a caring community. The Chester Museum is a fine example of what can happen when a community comes together.
A museum vision realized
Two things happened simultaneously in around 1980. First, local historians (and current museum directors) Joan Sayre and Marilyn Quadrio, along with local business owners, began to fundraise to make community improvements, which included founding a natural history museum.
At the same time, the Friends of the Library members decided they needed to add onto the existing library structure that was built in 1929.
“Laura McGregor wrote grants for the library and Marilyn wrote grants for the museum,” Sayre said. “Money also came from the Plumas Historical Society, money that had been set aside for a museum in the Lake Almanor area.”
The result of the fundraising was the ability to add a 50-by-35-foot expansion to the library. The library grew by a 20-by-50-foot room. The remaining space, 50 by 15 feet, was dedicated to a museum.
“Collins Pine, in addition to the grants, funded a large amount of money to complete the museum with a written understanding that there would always be a museum,” Sayre said.
Through the museum doors
The focus of the Chester Museum is preserving the history of the Lake Almanor Basin, formally known as Big Meadows, from early Maidu culture up to the beginning of white settlement in the 1850s.
Historical components within the museum include the beginning of Prattville at Big Meadows and the birth of Lake Almanor in the early 1900s.
It is also reflective of the change in culture.
“The change began with the filling in of the lake. Many ranches were sold to Great Western Power and the dispersal of ranching families to Quincy, Chico, Susanville, Red Bluff and other Valley communities. From there, Chester began to grow,” Quadrio said.
Museum exhibits feature the history of those ranching families: the Hamiltons of Big Meadows, for whom Hamilton branch is named; and Chester-based rancher Charley Stover, who also sold his ranch to GWP but formed an agreement to lease the land back for cattle whenever the water level permitted.
Others well known in the historical ranching community were the Peter Olsen family, the Oscar Martin family and the Baccala and MacKenzie families.
Early dairymen in the Lake Almanor Basin included the Stovers, Baccalas, Hamiltons, Olsens and Martins.
The museum also features early Big Meadows Maidu artifacts including photos, baskets, spearheads and grinding rocks.
Roy Sifford, who founded Drakesbad as a resort in the early 1900s gave the museum Sifford family artifacts used in the operation of the resort. In the museum a guest will find tea towels, the hotel register, dining ware and Roy’s guitar.
“Roy was well-known for his singing on trail rides,” Sayre said.
Another section of the museum reflects the history of the Lassen Trail with a display of wagon hubs, a grinding wheel, blacksmith tools, chain and yokes.
“The Lassen Trail came through Big Meadows to Soldier Meadows on the way to the Lassen Ranch in Vina,” local historian and director Sayre added.
In touring the Chester Museum there is much to catch the eye, whether it be a druggist’s pestle and grinder, wagon and buggy wheels, kerosene lanterns or photos and posters of the early Stover-MacKenzie Rodeos.
There are even artifacts from the Chester Post Office and early tourist trade.
“The Basin was a mecca for tourists as early as the 1870s. By the 1880s there were several thousand folks a year staying in Big Meadows. Fishermen came from all over the United States and internationally to fish; it has always been that way,” Quadrio said.
Filling a ‘wish list’
Currently the museum is developing a history of life in Chester and the two directors are working on a school exhibit by building a collection of yearbooks from Chester High School.
Other Chester memorabilia collected includes items from early baseball teams and an early voter registration poll book that reveals who was living in Chester in 1936. Titled “Index to Precinct Registers of Plumas County, Primary Election August 25, 1936,” it is a rare find.
Quadrio and Sayre have a list of items they are seeking for the museum. Their want list includes old phone books, newspapers and old photos from past Fourth of July celebrations, homecoming games and even people with their catch of the day.
“We are losing our older generation and younger family members don’t always know what to save. If you think you may have something of interest, please call us. Chances are we can tell you when and where a photo or activity occurred,” Quadrio said.
You can reach Joan Sayre by calling 258-2677 and Marilyn Quadrio at 596-3011.