By Harriet Codeglia, Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum/Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about Americans:
"If, in a local community, a citizen becomes aware of a human need which is not being met, he
discusses the situation with his neighbors. Suddenly a committee comes into existence. The committee...begins to operate on behalf of the need and a new community function is established. It is like watching a miracle because these citizens perform this act without a single reference to any bureaucracy or any official agency."
This is exactly what happened in the Big Oak Flat/Groveland area that led to the creation of the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum. After Boise Cascade began the development of the Pine Mountain Lake in Groveland in 1969, a group of local citizens formed the Highway 120 Association to promote Groveland to travelers to Yosemite. Later, from that association came another group whose primary interest was the history of this Gold Rush town. The Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society was formed in 1987 "for the express purpose of recording, preserving, protecting and making available for the public benefit the total history of our area". This was expanded to include the natural history of the area also.
The STCHS members decided that a museum was needed for this purpose and dedicated their energies to making this dream a reality - a huge undertaking for a tiny town of less than 2000 full-time residents. Since all the old buildings that might be used for the museum were too small or needed too much major structural work, they decided to build a museum "from scratch". From 1942 to 1945 the local library was located in the small pantry of Lena Cassaretto's kitchen. After 1945 it was located in a room in the basement of the community hall. Therefore, STCHS members recognized the need for a new library and they suggested that a Tuolumne County branch library be located in the same building that would house the museum - a double benefit for the town.
Where would they get the land for this project? Groveland Community Services District (the water company) had the perfect piece of property on Rt. 120 right next to the town park. It wasn't easy, but an agreement was finally reached for use of this land.
But how does such a tiny town pay for such a major construction project? It would only be possible with a lot of dedication, hard work, planning and heartfelt belief that this COULD be done. It was achieved by grants from the Sonora Area Foundation, a public minded organization; fund raising projects such as concerts, picnics, book sales, dinners, speakers and plays; monetary donations from businesses and the people of the area; donations of architectural designs, physical labor, equipment and materials, and legal advice; memorials; and Charlie-the-Can-Man and his volunteer crew's collection of nearly $50,000 worth of aluminum cans. The large wooden thermometer placed on the property showing the financial progress toward the ultimate goal, climbed higher and higher. By the time the project was finished close to a million dollars had been committed and spent - ALL WITHOUT STATE OR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SUPPORT.
Ground breaking took place on Nov. 17, 1999 and the museum was completed in October of 2000. It was officially opened in May, 2001. It continues, to be staffed and maintained to this day by a group of dedicated volunteers.
WHAT AN AMAZING SUCCESS STORY! DON'T YOU AGREE?
Information for this article taken from: The Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum, a book written by Mary E. Kelly, 2007.
This article, along with all our wonderful articles on local history, is provided by the Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society (STCHS) and the Groveland Gateway Museum. The Museum is open Friday - Sunday 10a - 2p.