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The REAL Old West

The Main Room of the Julian Pioneer Museum

The Main Room of the Julian Pioneer Museum

One of our favorite things to do in small towns in the West is to hunt up the local historical museum. Julian, California, was no exception. Our first full day in Anza Borrego, Martine and I slowly wound our way up the Banner Grade to the small mountain town that sits at the 5,000 foot (or 1,524 meter) level in a pine forest. It was a nippy day on top of the mountain, so we were delighted to find the Julian Pioneer Museum on Highway 78 right near the center of town, where we received a warm welcome.

It was cluttered, but with things redolent of the past and sometimes with a long historical pedigree. For instance, there were several bookcases with glass doors that belonged to President Ulysses S. Grant. He had sent them to his son in San Diego. Some of them found their way to Julian. There was also a chair that belonged to Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, and a very worn pocket knife that once belonged to Zachary Taylor. On the rafters were taxidermy specimens of the local bird and mammal wildlife. There were carriages, a huge (the largest West of the Mississippi, it is claimed) collection of homemade lace, and the tools of the trade for several of the early professions in this Old West town.

Although it was forbidden to take pictures in the interior, I asked permission to take the above photo from the foyer.

Originally, the building was a blacksmith shop built of the native Julian Schist back in 1890 (see bronze commemorative plate below), then a brewery, before once again becoming a blacksmith shop before winding up a ruin that was restored to become a museum back in 1952.

Commemorative Plaque Outside the Museum

Commemorative Plaque Outside the Museum

The Julian Historical Society did such a good job putting together the collections that I rank it with my two favorite California historical museums: the Laws Railroad Museum in California’s Owens Valley near Bishop and the Eastern California Museum, also in the Owens Valley, in Independence, right opposite the house of late writer Mary Austin, whose The Land of Little Rain is a California classic.

Much of what has been written about the Old West comes under the heading of “printing the legend” (q.v. John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), but there is plenty to see that is real and fascinating. The Julian Pioneer Museum is one of those places.

And while you’re in Julian, don’t forget to drop in at Miner’s Diner for lunch and at one of the local bakeries for a great piece of apple pie.

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