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Museum is treasure trove of Ripon history
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Ripon’s indirect tie to the driving of the final golden spike of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869 in Promontory, Utah can be found on Main Street in the Ripon Historical Society museum.

It’s there in the collection of documents and artifacts that you will find out about Jacob Strahle.

Strahle, who arrived in California from German in 1851, was the largest owner of farmland listed in 1878 within the Dent Township area that includes modern-day Ripon. Strahle farmed 1,560 acres.

Strahle’s claim to fame wasn’t farming. It was crafting and selling billiard tables. His firm located at 533 Market Street in San Francisco — in the heart of today’s north of Market financial district — at the time he farmed in Ripon was considered the West Coast’s “largest billiard house.”

His ornate and stylish billiards were so highly acclaimed that railroad authorities commissioned his firm to produce the commemorative railroad tie that the golden spike was driven into.

If billiards isn’t your game, then how about Whist and other parlor card games? More than 5,000 people — with many traveling from as far away as Chicago — converged on Ripon on July 21, 1932 to participate in the world’s largest card party. Photos show card players filled what are now Ripon’s downtown streets in a bid to set a world record.

Those are just a few of the nuggets of Ripon history you’ll find inside the Ripon Historical Museum, 430 Main St. The museum relocated into the former library building in July 2011. The museum is run by volunteer docents enabling the doors to be open to the public Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. and at other times by appointment.
The Ripon Historical Museum Commission consists of Gary Medeiros, Jeffrey Kincaid, Don Schaapman, John Mangelos, and Connie Jorgensen with Margaret McCoy serving as the alternate.

“I love this town,” said Jorgensen who staffs the museum on Wednesdays and arranges appointments at other times for tours by calling 985-3186.

Jorgensen — who was born and raised south of the Stanislaus River in Modesto and Ceres — fell in love with Ripon after she married Cliff Jorgensen whose grandfather Jacob Peter arrived in 1919 and farmed land along Palm Avenue.

Her interest in Ripon history was piqued not just by her husband’s family roots but also a desire to learn more about her adopted hometown.

Jorgensen, who also works as an in-home care provider at Bethany Home, has been a student of Ripon history for decades just like her fellow commissioners and the 10 docents that keep the museum doors open and organize the collection.

Over the years hundreds of people have donated items to help piece together the community’s history that is incorporated into lessons at the elementary schools and Ripon High. Docents regularly host classes on field trips.

Jorgensen noted one of the more popular items for Ripon High students is a collage of photos of Ripon Elementary kindergarten students from 1982 that includes a young Jorge Velasco wearing Dennis the Menace style overalls.

“They get pretty excited when they see the photo,” Jorgensen said.

The photo can be found in a section of the museum dedicated to Ripon schools.

It is there you will not only find photos and memorabilia from the schools but also an almost complete set — just two years are missing — of the Ripon High “The Mission” yearbook so named due to the original campus’ mission-style architecture.

The oldest yearbook is for a rural school that dates back to 1872.

Among the tidbits found on the pages of the Ripon High yearbooks is the fact Thomas Downey — for whom Downey High in Modesto was named — was part of the Ripon High faculty in the 1940s.

Jorgensen — thanks to gifts to the museum in the form of documents, memorabilia and community members sharing their knowledge — can tell you that of the 27 male members of the Ripon High Class of 1941, 25 went off to war. Two did not return.

The museum collection for the most part is organized in general subjects of interest — business, toys, households of a bygone era, farming implements, barber shop apparatus, and even an old-fashioned doctor’s office.

Without the museum, tidbits of history such as the Ripon Hatchery would be lost forever as those involved pass away. The museum, as an example, is the place you can go to learn about the Ripon Hatchery formed by Simon Viss in 1926 in the Ripona district on Milgeo Avenue.

The Viss Hatchery existed long before Foster Farms. Chicks and turkeys were hatched in mahogany incubators in two long buildings behind the main office.

When the chickens hatched they were shipped out to farms. At 18 weeks the turkeys’ wings were clipped. They were then placed on an open range. Viss rented land on the river bottom between the Highway 99 b bridge and Caswell State Park to accommodate “free range” turkeys.

Turkeys roaming the river bottom ranged from 5,000 to 50,000 at any given time.

The hatchery was in business until it closed in the 1960s.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email