The San Marcos Historical Society (SMHS) has a rich history of its own, and has been an integral part of the San Marcos community since its founding in 1967. From a one-room museum on Mission Rd. to the historical buildings, barn shed, and gardens of today’s Heritage Park, the society has truly grown with the community. We speak with President Tanis Brown about the SMHS mission and the importance of preserving our local heritage.
Q&A with Tanis Brown, San Marcos Historical Society President
Can you tell us the history of the San Marcos Historical Society?
The San Marcos Historical Society was founded and incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit organization in 1967 by a small group of local residents – a combination of newcomers and pioneer families. The first “museum” was a small room next to a coffee shop owned by Flora Brown (no relation to Tanis), located on Mission Rd. near Pico.
The Museo de San Marcos was a two-room farmhouse located next to the Williams Square Barn at the intersection of Twin Oaks Valley Rd. and San Marcos Blvd. During the early years, Ruth Lindenmeyer, a retired teacher, became the museum administrator. She established the Research Library and secured grants and CETA workers to help record interviews, document historic buildings, and collect maps and photos.
When the Williams Barn was moved to Walnut Grove Park in the early 1990s, the little farmhouse was torn down and the museum and research library moved to the Mary Y. Connors Hall, next door to San Marcos Elementary School. Development in San Marcos was booming. The historical society, under the leadership of Roy and Bev Haskins, got involved with saving two historical homes from being torn down, and the City Council agreed to relocate the homes to Walnut Grove Park on a temporary basis.
Between 2003 and 2005, the City acquired adjoining property to the park, and a 1.4-acre parcel was designated as a Heritage Park area. Work began on restoration of the two houses. In 2009, the San Marcos Unified School District began construction on a new San Marcos Elementary School – which meant that the Mary Y. Connors Hall had to move. The historical society opted to have the building relocated to the Heritage area at Walnut Grove Park, on the same site as the historical homes. To make up for lost storage space, the City of San Marcos constructed another building on-site. The newly constructed building serves as the Welcome Center for Heritage Park. For over a year, the Historical Society was dark to the public.
By September 2010, Heritage Park held a grand opening. Heritage Park now consisted of four buildings, a native garden, a 1940s fire engine and outdoor farm equipment. Thanks to the help of the City of San Marcos, San Marcos Unified School District, Vallecitos Water District, San Marcos Community Foundation, local service clubs, scout troops, and friends and neighbors, the San Marcos Historical Society finally had a long-term home inside Walnut Grove Park.
What is the San Marcos Historical Society’s mission?
The mission of the San Marcos Historical Society is to preserve, protect, and present the history of the local area through exhibits, displays, events and outreach to all members of community. The society is committed to the maintenance and upkeep of Heritage Park and the historical objects, artifacts, and documents contained within.
Can you tell us about the facilities and resources at Heritage Park?
Heritage Park has four buildings, a barn shed, agricultural area, native garden, water wall, and donor recognition garden. The Welcome Center houses the Research Library, which consists of photographs, interviews, books, and documents pertinent to local history.
The Mary Y. Connors Hall was constructed in 1939 near the 1910 schoolhouse and Rich Mar School. The building was made possible because of grant funding and labor was provided by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt presidency. Historical displays in the museum create a timeline around the perimeter of the walls so that the main area and stage can be used for presentations, classes, and performances. Displays in the museum highlight artifacts and photos that feature the earliest inhabitants of San Marcos, the Luisenos, followed by the Rancheros period, and the early European settlers to the area, ending with events leading up to the incorporation of San Marcos as a city in 1963.
The two historical homes are referred to as the Cox house and Bidwell house. Both have been restored and are fully furnished with revolving seasonal displays.
The back area of Heritage Park is used for an educational program known as Hands on History. Students spend two hours learning about early life in San Marcos, from the Luiseno grinding stones and oral storytelling, to historical crafts and games, gardening, outdoor chores, indoor chores, and a scavenger hunt inside the two historical homes.
How did you become involved with the historical society?
I got involved originally when I was home with two preschoolers and wanted to find out about a historical home in my neighborhood. I called the City and was referred to the historical society. I had some time to volunteer and was able to meet many individuals who were descendants of the pioneer families and had lived in San Marcos most of their lives.
When my kids went to school, I also went back to school, getting a degree from California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) and after graduation ended up working at CSUSM until 2007. After I retired, I was invited to be on the board in 2009 and have been involved ever since. This was a critical time for the organization because of the relocation to Walnut Grove Park. Since I live in Twin Oaks Valley, I’m only five minutes away from Heritage Park, so I started spending more time at the park when we were setting up displays and getting reacquainted with the collection after 18 months in storage. Maryanne Cioe was instrumental in helping get the library reestablished.
“We get visitors who lived here as children and can reminisce about their parents and grandparents or what they remember about life in San Marcos.”
What are the most rewarding parts of working with the historical society?
I think the thing I love most is hearing family stories from the old days. We get visitors who lived here as children and can reminisce about their parents and grandparents or what they remember about life in San Marcos. It’s also very exciting to have someone call our office looking for historical information about a family, or place, or building, and we actually have the information in our files. It’s a testament to the people set up the system when the society first got started and all those who continued to keep great records through the years. We are just starting to digitize our accession records after keeping all our records in a card file. Another new project is available on our website to find out if we have records on your family. This was done by Olivier Jamois as an Eagle Scout project.
Can you tell us a little about your board of directors?
We have a board of between 12 and 15 members who not only take responsibility for making decisions for the care and maintenance of Heritage Park, but they also do what it takes to keep us up and running. This can include going to meetings, writing letters and talking to people, soliciting donations, promoting Heritage Park, painting and construction work, baking cookies to keeping up a website, giving tours, working with all ages, giving a tour, and yes – even cleaning the bathrooms. We are a 100% volunteer organization so the board and a dedicated group of volunteers do whatever it takes to run the organization and the facilities.
When and where does the San Marcos Historical Society meet?
Monthly board meetings are held on the second Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. in the Welcome Center. Refreshments served from 6 to 6:30 p.m. The public is always invited to attend.
How does the historical society stay connected with the San Marcos community?
Each summer the historical society participates in City-sponsored concerts at Woods House, and we will host Summer Nights on Tuesday evenings in July and August. In the fall our big event is Horse Heritage Festival, an all-day fundraising event held at Heritage Park on Oct. 15. Our resident genealogist, Julie Miller, offers a four-session Introduction to Genealogy class in spring and fall, and two-hour specialty classes throughout the year. We also sponsor classes on sustainable landscaping year-round, taught by Diane Downey and Sheri Menelli of Earth Friendly Gardens. We host tea parties, and special events and displays throughout the year. We send emails to our membership and post classes and special events on our web page and Facebook, and in local publications. There are members of the San Marcos Historical Society who are available to make presentations to groups and organizations.
The San Marcos Historical Society also participates in CINCH (Council Interpreting North County History), an organization with representatives from many North County museums.
“We exist because knowing where you come from creates a sense of belonging to the members of the community.”
Does the historical society need volunteers?
Do birds fly? Yes indeed, we can always use volunteers who can donate a minimum of four hours per month to assist in the ongoing operations of Heritage Park. We have a brief interview with potential volunteers to get a feel for their interests and then try to match them with the one of our ongoing activities and programs.
What are the organization’s short-term and long-term goals?
One of our pressing needs is to either repair or replace the gazebo which is the centerpiece of our Native Garden. It was installed in 2011 but has not weathered very well. Long-term goals include adding the Old Richland Schoolhouse to Heritage Park and getting our 1940’s fire engine restored.
Are there any fun facts about San Marcos history that our readers might find interesting or amusing?
We like to say that Heritage Park is a place where History meets Discovery. Visitors who come to Heritage Park will find out how Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, and the Merriam Webster Dictionary are connected; they will learn why we have Mulberry Rd.; who got shot in Desolation Flats? and what does that have to do with the “pink house”; which Top 10 song was recorded in San Marcos; and how the city moved from eggs to eggheads in less than 10 years.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Historical societies and museums like the San Marcos Historical Society and Heritage Park are a unique resource in the community. We exist because knowing where you come from creates a sense of belonging to the members of the community. Why do we have streets named Borden and Fulton and Richland and Barham? We can tell you. What made San Marcos a “Well-Rounded Community” back in 1950? What do Palomar College and Buckminster Fuller have in common? We can tell you. A recent study showed that a huge percentage of people surveyed believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Sadly, our beloved cows and dairies in San Marcos have left to make way for progress – but those who come to Heritage Park, will learn about our rich agricultural history, brown cows coming to California, and the truth about chocolate milk!
At-A-Glance President of the Board
Name: Tanis Brown
Community: San Marcos since 1976
Education & Profession: Worked in HR administration and training at CSUSM, attended Grossmont College, Palomar College, BA from CSUSM, graduate studies at CSUSM and SDSU
Family: Husband – Alan; four children; six grandchildren
Hobbies & Interests: Historical novels, sewing/crafts, camping in Yosemite, international travel, community involvement
At-A-Glance San Marcos Historical Society
Phone Number: 760-744-9025
Address: 1952 Sycamore Dr., San Marcos, CA 92069
July & August Hours: Tuesdays from 5:30 – 8:30 pm, Thursdays and Saturdays from 1 – 4:30 pm
Regular hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday from 1 – 4:30 pm, or tours by appointment
Summer Nights at Heritage Park
Scavenger Hunt House Tours:
5:30 – 6:30 p.m.
6:30 – 7:45 p.m.
Garden Art and Bird Feeders
Old-Fashioned Game Night and Popcorn Treats
Textile Crafts and Demonstrations
Sunset Strummers Ukulele O’Hana
Special Monday Concert – Museum of Making Music Jazz Band