Story: Gary VanDeWalker
The Siskiyou County Museum
Mike Hendryx builds time machines transporting people into the past. From the Native American salmon nets poised over raging waters to the quiet parlor games of pioneer women, his creations introduce guests to the experience of times once hidden away in boxes in attics, bringing them to life for all who will join the adventure. For more than 20 years, Hendryx has guided people into the richness of history as the curator of the Siskiyou County Museum.
The museum’s home began upstairs in the county courthouse in the 1940s, rapidly spilling down the stairway. In 1950, the museum moved to its present location, into a building modeled after the Callahan Ranch House. Under Hendryx’s skillful touch, half of the museum’s holdings have been transformed into modern displays of interactive history. The museum has more than 15,000 annual visitors, and Hendryx hopes “they will drive around our county with a greater understanding of what they see because of their experience.”
The newest exhibit highlights the 150th birthday of Scott Valley Bank. Hendryx’s own great-grandfather was neighbors with bank founder A.B. Carlock. Called in to assess the artifacts owned by the Bank, Hendryx joined bank employee Lisa Wright in sorting through the bank’s collection in Fort Jones. Wright conceived of an exhibit transporting one from the Gold Rush days to the present, and Hendryx accepted the challenge. “Mike always says ‘yes’ when he should say ‘yes’,” Wright noted.
The special exhibit begins with the recreated red brick façade of the first bank branch in Fort Jones. Open for display is Carlock’s first gold dust book, recording his business deposits from 1861. “The bank’s founders never threw anything away, giving us a foundation for research for the exhibit,” says Hendryx.
Hendryx spent a month, day and night, designing and creating the history of Carlock’s days as a miner, banker, Wells Fargo agent, telegraph owner and entrepreneur of dreams. The timeline winds through the recreated interior of the bank’s office in 1900, using fixtures and the gold scale from the original branch. Even the wallpaper is copied from one of the many photographs of the bank. Inside a small room that replicates the original bank vault, an actor booms out Carlock’s voice, announcing his retirement.
The museum is home to several permanent displays. The Native American display provides a view into the lives of six Northern California tribes. The Trappers Gallery traces the days of early Siskiyou County trappers, including the recreation of an 1830s Scott Valley spike camp. The upper gallery holds a gold mining exhibit, an in-depth look at Chinese workers in the county and the Pioneer Settlement Gallery.
“The covered wagon was especially built for the museum, with the undercarriage being constructed from an original wagon. We had to disassemble it and restore it here in the upstairs gallery,” Hendryx remarks. The Loggers Cabin reverberates with squeaky floorboards as people step between the bunks.
The Scott Valley Bank exhibit runs through the end of June. The bank will pay museum admission all day on June 14th Father’s Day Weekend. It will morph into a smaller, permanent display in the upper gallery which is continually expanding. The most recent addition is the Firearms Collection, and currently in development are a period kitchen, General Store and agriculture displays. These are in addition to the 2½-acre outdoor museum, open May through October.
Stepping out of the wooden doors of this time machine, Hendryx hopes visitors leave with a new appreciation for those who settled Northern California. He says, “The gift of the museum is what you take away from it.”