Kelley House Museum ~ About Us

The Kelley Residence

The Kelley House was built in 1861 as the home for William Kelley and his family. William arrived in Mendocino in July of 1852 on the ship which brought the first lumber mill to Mendocino. The house was owned by the Kelley family for 114 years until it was sold and converted to a research center and museum. Learn more about the Kelley family.

The Kelley House Museum and Research Center

In 1969, retired accountant Beth Stebbins and retired librarian Dorothy Bear, both from Palm Springs, settled in Mendocino. Stebbins was an amateur photographer and became interested in the architecture of the old buildings. Working with Nannie and Emery Escola, as well as other local historians, Dorothy and Beth began collecting photos and researching Mendocino’s pioneer families and unique history. Beth and Dorothy began publishing books about local history; one of their first publications was the still-popular Mendocino. They formally established as the Mendocino Historical Research, Inc. in 1973.

retired accountant Beth Stebbins and retired librarian Dorothy Bear, both from Palm Springs, settled in Mendocino

Beth Stebbins and Dorothy Bear

kelley house museum before renovation

The Kelley House prior to restoration.

The acquisition of the Kelley House for an organizational headquarters began in earnest a year later. In 1975 the house and property were deeded to the organization by Robert O. Peterson, founder of the Jack In The Box fast food chain, and then owner of the Mendocino Hotel. Peterson’s roots were in early Mendocino; his father was born here and his grandfather worked in the mill. Through community engagement, energetic fundraising (and some general arm twisting), the restoration of the 114 year old building was eventually completed.

In 1993 an environmentally controlled vault was constructed, which allows the Kelley House to safely store the 10,000+ donated photographs and artifacts. It is the only museum-quality storage and research facility open to the public on the Mendocino coast.

Today the Kelley House Museum continues to support the community with its dedication to collecting, preserving, and sharing the rich history of the Mendocino Coast. The Kelley House Museum, in keeping with historical preservation, is furnished with period furniture from the late 1800s, including items that belonged to the Kelley family. And in the many years since its founding by Bear and Stebbins, the organization has published over 40 books on local history, many of which are available for purchase in the bookstore.

kelley house museum after renovation

The Kelley House Museum today.

The Kelley House Museum has been a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization since its inception. Its core mission remains that of preserving local history while standing as a guardian of the irreplaceable cultural environment and architecture of the Mendocino coast. The Kelley House Museum and Research Center are supported by donations, membership dues, grants — and many generous volunteers.