In late May, the Kelley House welcomed Mendocino High School students and gave them a glimpse of what life was like for people their age over 100 years ago. There were no phones! Kids rode horses to school or walked. Teenagers dressed up and went to tea parties, of all things. Life on the coast at the turn of the century was truly tough.

Students from Pam Duncan’s Civics class examine turn-of-the-century textbooks and garments.

Civics teacher Pam Duncan brought all four of her classes to the Kelley House to acquaint them with the museum’s programs and treasures. The majority of the students had never visited the museum; those who had been here came as fourth graders as part of their California History curriculum. 

Students were given a tour of the house and spent extra time in the rooms of the Kelley children. The exhibit, Neighbors Across the Pond, about the Kelleys and the Fords, served as a focal point for stories about teen activities and culture over the years. Autograph books, school textbooks, and articles of clothing were brought out of the archives and students had the opportunity to examine them closely. 

The students donned cotton archival gloves and flipped through the pages of math textbooks and photo albums. They were amazed at how easy the math problems seemed in comparison to what they are studying. Several students were taken aback by the flowery script and personal sentiments in the autograph books, a popular way to communicate with friends and acquaintances at the turn of the century.

The field trips concluded with a visit to the Kelley House archives, where students learned about collection management and were once again given the opportunity to handle the artifacts and papers. In a box of Boom yearbooks from the 1980’s and 90’s the students found photos of their parents and family friends when they were high schoolers. Can you believe the clothes and hairdos? Old Mendocino Beacon newspapers—of which the Kelley House owns a complete set—offered glimpses into everything from the price of eggs and bread at Mendosa’s in 1920 to hot car models in 1930 and ladies’ hat styles in 1940.

Sharing the history of Mendocino is the mission of the Kelley House and, when we get to do it with the young people who live here, it is especially rewarding. The field trips of grade school and high school students were unfortunately interrupted during the two COVID years, but the recent visits from the Civics classes made us look forward to more when school starts again in the fall. 

But no one has to wait for fall to check out the Kelley House; we’re open from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM Thursday through Sunday. Contact us at info@kelleyhousemuseum.org for more information. Walking tours of the historic district depart from the Kelley House regularly; for the tour schedule, visit www.kelleyhousemuseum.org.