Livingston Historical Society Museum-Big Things in a Small Building

The Livingston Historical Society Museum is not a very big building.  But it holds a lot of things that tell quite a story about this small northern Merced County City and its role in shaping life in the San Joaquin Valley.

Livingston Historical Society Museum, Livingston, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Livingston Historical Society Museum, Livingston, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

My interest in the museum was first sparked by a brief newspaper item several months ago that thanked volunteers and encouraged the public to visit.  

While the museum will open for special tours, or even a casual visit, the official hours are Sunday’s noon to two.  I thought a museum that was only open officially for two hours a week probably has a story or two to tell.

So I called Barbara Ratzlaff, the president of the Livingston Historical Society, and asked for a visit.  Barbara, who prefers people call her Babs, set up the appointment and met me on location.

Late in the afternoon following a long day on the road for my regular job, I stopped in and took a memorable tour.

Telephone operator’s station display at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Telephone operator’s station display at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

An early item of interest was this telephone operator’s station.  Livingston had its own telephone company going back to the 1940s.  

The company is now owned by Frontier Communications and functions as a local phone service.

A local resident told me at least one long-time citizen has kept her family phone number ever since 1947.

There is an American Flag on the wall of a meeting room in the back of the building.  The flag has only forty-five stars and is believed to have been given to the City in commemoration of the nation’s forty-fifth state.  

By the way, the forty-fifth state is Utah.

I saw a display of black and white photographs depicting the visit by then Governor Earl Warren to the City from 1950.   

The Governor was running for reelection.  Governor Warren would win a third term, but he did not complete that term in Sacramento.  His tenure at the Governor’s mansion was interrupted when President Eisenhower appointed him to Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

Japanese internment artifacts at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Japanese internment artifacts at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The museum’s devotes a considerable amount of its limited space to telling the story of the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II.  

Many Japanese citizens worked in the fields in and around Livingston.  Many of these citizens owned property.  Internment took many people away to camps in nearby Fresno and Stockton.  

The Museum collection includes a suitcase used by one family as they packed what would fit and took it with them to an internment camp.  Other displays include newspaper accounts, photographs, and posters.

The Japanese Internment displays at the Livingston Historical Society Museum feature this box that likely held possessions of an intern gathered before being sent to one of the camps- Photos by Steve Newvine

The Japanese Internment displays at the Livingston Historical Society Museum feature this box that likely held possessions of an intern gathered before being sent to one of the camps- Photos by Steve Newvine

The internment story takes several pages and is sourced to over two-hundred articles and books on Wikipedia.  The Livingston Museum does not attempt to cover the entire story, but it does help the visitor understand to some degree what life might have been like for the Japanese who endured the internment era, and those who returned to resume their lives in Merced County after the War ended.

There is an internment memorial on the Merced County Fairgrounds in the City of Merced.  In Livingston, the primary memorial for this part of the community’s history rests behind the walls of this little building on 604 Main Street in Livingston.

The building opened in 1922 as a County Library and Justice Court.  Then California Governor William D. Stephens attended the groundbreaking ceremony held in March of that year.

While the Museum is not very big, it holds a lot of stories.  It’s a place for volunteers like Babs Ratzlaff, many who have lived in Livingston all their lives, to help share this history was younger generations of interested visitors.

It is a small building with a big story.

To arrange a tour of the Livingston Historical Society Museum, call Babs Ratzlaff at 209-394-2376

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He’s written Grown Up, Going Home, a look at his home town of Port Leyden, New York where he details some of that community’s historical events.