The museum lies within the walls of the original Byers-Nail family house, which the family erected on the Sellers Road property in 1891. Every nook and cranny of the house is filled with historical memorabilia, furniture, documents and antique farm machinery – a testament to the early settlers who helped form the communities of East County.
Local artists, crafters, sewers, knitters and builders were graced with beautiful weather for shoppers to wile away their afternoon browsing through rustic birdhouses, scented soy candles, sunbonnets and country décor.
Boutique organizer and ECCHS docent Joyce DeCato, all decked out in a glamorous witch costume, said that the revenue collected from the crafters for booth space will help with the maintenance and utilities of both the property and museum.
Marie Nolan brought her 8-year-old daughter Kay to the bazaar and strolled through the museum. “It’s amazing how my daughter has never seen a manual typewriter – or a house without a television or a computer, for that matter,” said Nolan. “Every parent should bring their children here.”
DeCato said that not only is the museum a place for families and individuals; it’s used to help teach students about the past.
“They come to learn that the Byers-Nail family was a productive farming family,” said DeCato. “Visitors get a feel of what it was like in the old days.”
Tending to the museum that day was Knightsen-raised ECCHS docent Pat Bello, who said that although she enjoys history, what really satisfies her is seeing children’s faces light up when they realize how far we have come. Her enthusiasm for the past is infectious. “I love it when I sense the children’s delight,” she said, “and I try to answer all their questions.
“Tending the museum gives me an appreciation of where we live, for those who built these homes and the schoolroom at the back.”
The 1886-built one-room Knightsen schoolhouse, moved to the Byers-Nail property from its original location, is used for teaching students about the past during school fieldtrips. “We want the children to see how different classrooms were back then,” said Bello.
Fellow docent Linda Mitchell was also there strolling the grounds, her “Little House on the Prairie” sunbonnet providing bonus historical flavor. She said that she has always been interested in history and vintage things. “Sunbonnets are a rarity now,” she said. “Some friends say they want to use them for gardening, as they are very effective sun protection.”
Jeannie Adams has been teaching and sewing for most of her 86 years. Her stuffed turkeys – the cloth pillow type – were gobbled up by those looking to dress up their tables for Thanksgiving. Adams sold pillows and knitted layettes for premature babies.
Adams’ husband Jack is also a docent at the museum and can usually be found over by the antique farm machinery display.
“I tell the kids who come here how apricots were packed and how water was fetched from a pump,” he said. “There is a working water pump still here.” Jack tells the kids, “This land used to be all wheat and 400-year-old oak trees. I show them the big old saw that used to cut down those trees.”
For more information about the East Contra Costa Historical Society and Museum, log onto www.theschoolbell.com/history.