Historic Santa Fe Depot houses small, yet mighty, museum! By Jessica Self, The Valley Chronicle, June 27, 2013
At the northwest corner of State and Florida streets sits a community museum that transforms people back in time hundreds of years to glimpse how life once was in the San Jacinto Valley.
People new to the San Jacinto Valley often drive by the colorful teal and tan historic Santa Fe Depot without realizing the historical museum housed inside exists. The passionate men and women of the Hemet Depot Museum want to change this scenario and bring more community awareness to the treasures and rich history kept within the walls once owned by some of Hemet’s oldest families.
“We also get a lot of grandparents bringing their grandchildren into the museum” said Rosemary Sears, a docent with the museum for the past 10 years. ”We really want to get the word out and let people know we are here.”
The Hemet Museum promises to give visitors a look into the fascinating history of the community and its unique place in California history. Many elementary school students visit the local Hemet Museum on field trips throughout the year, Sears said. She said the students love to sit on the wooden horses on display. ��The museum closes during the month of August to give the docents a break.
“It’s so fun to read the thank you notes from the students,” said Sears, a retired elementary history teacher.
The small Hemet Museum is located at the crossroads of Florida Avenue and State Street only on State Street. The Depot is a wonderful home for a number of pieces of the past of Hemet. Today, the old freight house is joined onto the original depot, which is now an empty coffee shop, making a long, interesting building in the heart of Hemet. The depot was saved during a “Save our Depot” campaign, Sears said.
“The city didn’t want the old building and it was going to be torn down,” Sears said, “We bought it and now it belongs to us.”
The Hemet Museum includes a panorama of local history in the freight house of Hemet’s Historic Santa Fe Depot. The freight house portion of the depot was built in 1898, one of the oldest structures in the downtown area. It has been the museum’s home since 1998. The small museum is clean and cleared of clutter and has a lot on display. The building is cared for by a team of about five trained docents who volunteer their time.
“We always need more volunteers,” Sears said.
The Hemet Museum is packed with ancient artifacts of the Pleistocene era uncovered during the excavation of Diamond Valley Reservoir. It includes displays on the local Native American, Spanish exploration, Mission period, Mexican settlement and pioneers of the American era. The museum also highlights the arrival of the railway, construction of the Great Hemet Dam, development of the agricultural community with photos, documents and exhibits.
On display in the museum is an original dentist chair with an electric motor which was in full use until 50 years ago. As you wander around the showcases, you will pass by an ol telephone switchboard. The Hemet Museum also has an extensive collection of more than 2,000 photographs, images in its collections of prints and negatives depicting Hemet from its earliest days to the present.
“We only take things with real connections to Hemet,” Sears said.
Sears, who said both her grandparents were early settlers in the Hemet area, fell in love with history as a child an pursued it both in her profession an in her retirement. She said she wishes the City of Hemet had saved move old structures over the years.
“I just get this terrible feeling when I think of all the old buildings in Hemet that were torn down,” Sears said. ”Hemet is home to me. I loved growing up here. It was just a small, farming community.”
Rob Lindquist is the current president of the board of directors of the Hemet Museum. The former curator was Anne Jennings from 1998 until recently. Shaina Wright, the Hemet Museum’s intern from last year, is serving as the part-time museum curator. Wright is a graduate of Mt. San Jacinto College and holds a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley and a master’s degree from the Public History program at UC Riverside.
The local Hemet Museum encourages people to become a member of the museum with individual dues costing $15, family memberships costing $25, and businesses/organizations costing $50. ����Lifetime memberships are also available.
“We’re interesting in increasing our membership and community support,” said Sears, who has been living back in Hemet for the past 13 years.
Hemet Historic Train Depot Looking east from Florida & State Streets with snowcovered
San Jacinto Mountains in backgroun