Kelley House Museum ~ Exhibits

The Kelley House Museum is proud to present current, online and in person exhibits. Each one contributes to the rich history of the Mendocino Coast.


Poster showing seated black and white photo of seated man

Mendocino Coast’s First Known African American Resident

Exhibit runs through May 27, 2024
Exhibit discussion with special guests: March 23, 4:00pm – 5:30pm 

Nathaniel Smith arrived in Mendocino County in the 1850s and is believed to be the first African American to settle on the coast. His life story is revealed through photos, clippings, and artifacts in this Kelley House Museum exhibit. Smith was at one time “known to every man, woman and child on the coast.” This exhibition presents details of Nathaniel Smith’s life set against the history of California’s treatment of people of color. Follow the path of Smith’s life as he moved from his hometown of Baltimore, traveled the world on a ship, and eventually settled and made his life in Mendocino County. Join us on March 23rd at 4pm for an in-depth discussion with Guest Curator Alexander Wood and Susan D. Anderson, History Curator at the California African American Museum. Advance tickets recommended as seating is limited.


mendocino water towers video promo

Mendocino Water Towers

Enjoy this eight-minute video tour of Mendocino’s water towers from 1880 – 2023. Historic and contemporary photographs of these iconic structures highlight the beauty and majesty of these famous landmarks.

poster the kelley family

The Kelley Family

Meet the Kelley Family: parents William and Eliza, and their four children, Daisy, Russell, Elise, and Otis, along with their extended family. A beautiful, hand-embellished family tree helps visitors understand their relationships to each other. Among the exhibit’s highlights is a one-of-a-kind scrapbook with postcards, clippings, snap shots, and other memorabilia that reveal scenes from the family’s everyday life.

Poster showing seated black and white photo of seated man

Nathaniel Smith

At one time, “known to every man, woman and child on the coast,” Nathaniel Smith resided in Mendocino County for over half a century. “He was one of the pioneer settlers of this coast, and no history of Mendocino county would be complete without some reference to him.” Smith, who initially worked as a hunter for the logging companies, gained acclaim and respect from the growing Mendocino community. His successes in ferrying, farming, and fishing were often reported in the local newspapers. His neighbors enjoyed the provisions he sold and depended on his ferrying services. Upon his death in 1906, newspaper obituaries extolled his character and lamented his passing.

Look Tin Eli: The Mendocino Visionary Who Helped Shape the Chinese American Experience @ kelley house museum virtual exhibit

Look Tin Eli

The life of Mendocino-born visionary Look Tin Eli was one of national significance. As a teenager returning home from China in 1884, his illegal detention instigated a court battle, culminating in the state’s legal precedent granting full citizenship for all native-born Californians. This story, which starts with one man from a small coastal town, will take us from frontier California into the mid-twentieth century and illustrates the struggle for full citizenship by Chinese and Japanese immigrants.

angela lansbury digital exhibit thumbnail

Angela Lansbury, Murder She Wrote 

During her career, Angela Lansbury featured in 60 films, 49 television series and movies, 21 stage productions, 2 radio shows, and 2 video games (for her voice acting as Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast). She received numerous awards throughout her career including 6 Golden Globe Awards, 6 Tony Awards (including a lifetime achievement award), a Laurence Olivier Award, and an Honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievements. She was also nominated for 3 Academy Awards, 18 Primetime Emmy Awards, and a Grammy Award.

One of the roles for which Angela Lansbury received the greatest recognition was as Jessica B. Fletcher in the TV series Murder, She Wrote, filmed in Mendocino.

south of main street exhibit

South of Main Street

Once a coastal prairie, then a bustling rail and lumberyard ringed by stores and houses, the south side of Main Street in Mendocino is now devoid of buildings. This exhibit uses historic photos and Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps to reveal the 20 buildings that used to line the south side of the street, including a jewelry store, Chinese stores, dwellings, a post office, and meat market.

poster from stump to ship

From Stump to Ship: Logging in Mendocino. 1852-1945

The California Gold Rush of 1849 created a building boom with lumber needed for houses, bridges, mining structures, and fences.  The size of old growth redwood trees, which are among the tallest on earth, made them prized timber. This slideshow explains how a tree was felled, milled into lumber, and then loaded onto ships that carried it to all parts of the world during Mendocino’s early years.

Video Tour of Kelley House Museum Second Floor

Because of the historic nature of the Kelley House, there is no elevator to the second floor. We asked students from Mendocino High School’s tech department to create a virtual tour so that those who aren’t able to access the upstairs exhibits can learn about the treasures within the Kelley family members’ bedrooms. We hope you enjoy their work and appreciate the interest they took in this project.


woven baskets

Pomo Basket Collection

Pomos lived along the Mendocino Coast for thousands of years prior to European settlement in 1850. On loan from the California Indian Museum are six examples of decorative gift and utilitarian baskets belonging to the Daisy Kelley MacCallum Collection.

then and now exhibit

Then and Now Photo Exhibit

“Then and Now” exhibit portrays the town of Mendocino and its surroundings by comparing scenes photographed approximately 100 years apart. The original photographs, taken by local, amateur photographer Perley Maxwell, were printed by the 2002 Mendocino High School photography class. The students then took modern day digital images of the same locations. These revealing images show how things have changed and how some things may never change.

The Frolic Shipwreck

In 1850, the Baltimore-built Clipper Frolic, en-route to Gold-Rush San Francisco from China, wrecked on a reef just north of today’s Point Cabrillo Light Station. Her story is among the most fascinating in California shipwreck history and is called “the most significant shipwreck on the west coast” by historians. Artifacts and interpretive materials from the shipwreck of the Frolic are on permanent exhibit.

We invite you to check out our online book store with over 30 titles devoted exclusively to Mendocino’s fascinating history.