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Yolo County Historical Society
Taken from Yolo County, Land of Changing Patterns by Joann Larkey and Shipley Walters
The Yolo County Historical Society, first founded in 1948, has its own history, that of working to save important historic buildings for public use, then often turning them over to a government body better able to restore and maintain them.
The first building preserved by the society, the old Springlake Schoolhouse, purchased in 1950 and moved to the Yolo County Fairgrounds by the County Fair Board, is still maintained by the society as a small museum, featuring exhibits of old photographs and other artifacts each year during fair time.
In 1971 the society purchased the sturdy but neglected Woodland Opera House, vacant since 1913, for $12,000. Community fund drives were organized, local legislators gave vital support, and, with one million dollars from state appropriations, $400,000 from the National Preservation Act, and $70,000 from the City of Woodland, restoration was made possible.
In 1979 the property became the Woodland Opera House Historic Park. The state supervises restoration but delegates operation to the City of Woodland, administered by a local board of trustees. The building has been expanded and significantly restored, but much needed work remains to be done.
In 1965 the Yolo County Historical Society saw the old Gibson Mansion as a possible permanent museum, and by 1968 started museum fund. Five years later the society led an effort to persuade the board of supervisors to allocate $20,000 in Revenue Sharing Funds, and in 1974 the supervisors named an advisory committee.
The Gibson Mansion was purchased for $19,000 in 1975, and the Yolo County Museum Association was formed that same year to promote development and raise supporting funds. A separate nine-member board operates the museum for the county. Society volunteers donate the proceeds from a dessert booth at the museum’s annual May Festival. To inform residents of the county’s colorful past and promote the preservation of important landmarks, the society sponsors monthly programs about the area’s history and publishes booklets on historical subjects. The authors of Land of Changing Patterns are preparing a series of mini histories of specific county areas to be published by the society, which will also be sponsoring a series of plates featuring historic buildings.
When the first historical society was organized in 1948 by W.G. Berhnardt, 13 charter members paid dues of one dollar. By 1950 there were more than 80 members; they raised $350 in a community drive to purchase the Springlake Schoolhouse.
Then the society was disbanded until 1963, when it was reorganized by Vivian Douglas, county librarian, and the Reverend E.E. Zimmerman of Winters. This time 256 charter members paid dues of $2.50 and the society kept going. Today there are more than 300 members. The first officers were Mrs. J. Dudley Stephens, Esparto, president, and Zimmerman, Joann Larkey, Stuart B. Waite, and Dick Blanchard.
In 1986 the Yolo County Historical Society contributed to the restoration of Capay Cemetery near Esparto, and Mary’s Chapel and Cemetery in Yolo. The society’s response to the vandalism of these landmarks was typical of a group of citizens who are working to preserve history, rather than to destroy it.