By Volunteers of the Atascadero Historical Society

In September 1967, the Atascadero Historical Society opened its first museum in the lower rotunda of the Atascadero Administration Building. This museum was in continuous operation until the San Simeon earthquake severely damaged the building in December 2003. After the earthquake, the Society moved all displays, exhibits and archives to several locations throughout Atascadero. They remained stored until a new leadership team for the Society decided to
reopen a museum.

The Society had been given a 1919 Colony era home, in 1965, that was moved from the site of the current Rabobank to its current location across from the Administration building. This house was used for community meetings and other civic events. It was decided to open a new museum in that house. After some structural repairs and a new coat of paint inside and out, the museum curator along with other Society volunteers started to design the exhibits and layout of the facility.

When the process of retrieving the assets of the museum in storage began, there were several disappointing discoveries. At least one location had a water leak that severely damaged several boxes of paper and photographic archives. Some items placed in storage had gone missing. The overall effect was that the Society had lost a portion of the collections. With many volunteer hours, the new museum opened in 2009 at 6600 Lewis Avenue, directly across from the Administration Building and is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.

Unfortunately, a significant portion of the Society’s collections did not fit in this new space. The new leadership team decided to explore options to get more space to display the collections and archives. A new vision for the Atascadero Historical Society Museum was developed.

What was finally decided upon was a Colony Period (1914-1924) neighborhood made up of original historic colony period homes. These homes would be augmented with outbuildings, like garages, or small barns, that would reflect this period in the history of Atascadero. This neighborhood of homes would also include a plaza with a larger-than-life statue of the founder of Atascadero, E.G. Lewis. Each home would house a different part of our collection, and the outbuildings would house bathrooms and larger exhibits, such as old horse-drawn carriages.

The Society found three or four Colony period homes slated to be demolished or that were unwanted and started looking at the actual process of moving these houses and the associated costs. First and foremost, they needed a place to relocate the homes and build our Colony Heritage Center. To the Society’s good fortune, an estate bequeathed funds for the project. In 2015, the funds were used to acquire almost three acres near the Atascadero Library — where an original tent city had been located. Near the time the Society announced plans to acquire the property, a contractor working on a major project on the grounds of the Atascadero Junior High School approached.

An old log-cabin looking building built for the youth of Atascadero in the late 1920s early ’30s called “the Cabin,” needed to be demolished or moved. The terms from the School District for the Society to acquire “the Cabin,” were that the building had to move within 60 days.

Again, with a volunteer effort and cooperation of government entities, the Society was able to move “the Cabin” through the streets of Atascadero in July of 2015. Since the Society had not had the opportunity to do any fundraising for a foundation, “the Cabin” sat at the CHC site, up in the air on cribbing.

In 2018, the Society was given a 1915 Colony home that was located on a lot where a new hotel was to be built. This time the Society had been able to raise enough funds to build a foundation for this new building as well as a foundation for “the Cabin.” Last July, the Society moved the home through the heart of Atascadero, East on Highway 41 to the Heritage site.

The Society completed the forming and pouring of the raised foundation for the house, and then began doing the same type of foundation work for the Cabin. In late August, both buildings were lowered onto the new permanent foundations. In the following weeks they anchored the houses and made them stable, with hope for the next 100 years.

Currently, the focus of the Historical Society is bringing these two buildings up to the current building codes as required by the City of Atascadero. This will include new electrical and water services for the entire site, a new slab floor for “the Cabin,” new electrical wiring for both buildings, new roofs, drywall and other finishes that were needed.

Once rehabilitated, “the Cabin” will become a natural history museum with displays of the oldest archives in the collection, from the pre-Spanish days of Atascadero. The Colony home will become an archival center and will house all the photographic, print — including most of the bound Atascadero News editions — and paper-based archives of the Society. There will also be computers available to allow the public to research documents and publications that will not be available anywhere else.

On April 27, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., the Society will be hosting a get acquainted fundraiser at the site where both buildings will be open to the public for the first time. The theme will be “Colony Family Fun Day” to celebrate the Colony period when new residents moved into their new homes, with games and events that were related to that time. Food, beverages and tours of the structures will also be available.

The Society hopes to make this an annual event, the last Saturday in April, so please join for the first-ever event.

For more information, go to atascaderocistoricalsociety.org, or email atascaderocolonymuseum@gmail.com.