by Jane Tillis, Board member

Kelley House Museum Director-Curator Karen McGrath

There’s new leadership at the Kelley House Museum. Karen McGrath, Director-Curator, has succeeded Anne Cooper, who held the position for three years before returning to her home in San Diego. Karen is a relatively new resident of the Coast, having moved here in October 2016, but she and her husband have been visitors to the area since 2003. After years of saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to live here?” at the end of their many vacations to the Coast, they finally decided to follow their dreams. She and her family previously had been residents of Redding for 16 years.

While still in Redding, Karen took early retirement from her work as a parks planner and community projects manager, and returned to landscape architecture, a field she had studied in graduate school. Her design consulting business was so successful that she continued to work in the Redding area for two years after she moved to the Coast, commuting once or twice a month until the position at Kelley House became available. She knew what she wanted, and that meant working for the Kelley House Museum.

Even before moving to Albion, Karen was a volunteer at the Kelley House, serving beer and wine at the 2016 July Fourth Barbecue and Lawn Party. Over time, her involvement with the Kelley House and her knowledge of coastal history grew. In 2017, Karen was asked to work with local historical archaeologist Thad Van Bueren to create a landscape remediation plan for the Kelley House Pond. She continued volunteering and last year she chaired the Fourth of July committee. 

Karen brings many years of experience in planning, project management and volunteer coordination to the Kelley House, plus she has a keen interest in the unique environment of the Mendocino Coast. Her passions are architecture and maps. Poring over the resources in the Kelley House archives, Karen has been working on a project she is calling the Mendocino Atlas and Gazetteer. This digital effort will use photos and a myriad of historical documents to map the buildings, the businesses, and the people associated with these places from 1852 to the present.

While continuing the work for which the Kelley House is well known — collecting and cataloguing objects and photos of the Mendocino Coast — Karen also will be enhancing the accessibility of the archives with an ambitious digitization project that will scan important documents, making them available and searchable online. This will be a boon to historical researchers and to people looking for more information about their family members. Thanks to a grant received through the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, work will begin this summer. She also hopes to install additional permanent exhibits in the museum.

If you’d like to volunteer at the Kelley House Museum, please drop by the Research Office weekday afternoons or email <>.