When the ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum in July of 2011, there was a beautiful building sitting empty on vacant land. After three months of hard work by volunteers, the Stage Stop officially opened to the public in October of the same year. In the years since, a dedicated all-volunteer staff has created a living museum with new exhibits every few months. The first barn has been built from reclaimed barn wood and construction on a working blacksmith shop is underway. Volunteers disassemble donated barns, transport the materials to Ely, and use it for the construction of outbuildings on the grounds.
Volunteers staff the museum on weekends from 11a.m. to 3 p.m., as well as for private tours and events. Ely docents cohost the Children’s Museum of Art and Sciences annual Art and Science Camp with Taylor Observatory every May when 120 elementary age students visit and learn how things used to be. The students have made butter, shelled dried corn, and washed clothing – all the old-fashioned way.
In November of this year, eighty third-graders from the Kelseyville Elementary School visited the Ely Stage Stop for a morning of living-history demonstrations. Museum docents provided eight stations of various activities through which groups of ten students rotated to get a better idea of how life was in the old days. Ely docents were very happy to welcome the kids. They were so curious, asking their own great questions as well as answering those posed to them by the presenters. Visits by school children and other interested groups prove the value of preserving the history of Lake County and sharing it with County residents and visitors.
Partnering with the Northern California Old Time Fiddlers Association, District 10, Ely volunteers have created a monthly Fiddlers’ Jam in the Ely barn. This family-friendly affair is held on the first Sunday of each month. There is no charge to attend and complimentary beverages and homemade cookies are available from the docents.
On the fourth Saturday of each month local historians come to the main house from noon to 2 p.m. to visit with guests and answer questions regarding different aspects of Lake County history. As these visits are recorded, the stories of Lake County’s history are being preserved for future generations.
The volunteers have created a merchandise corner in the main house that features many books on local history, Lake County diamonds, obsidian arrowheads, and items featuring both Ely Stage Stop and Lake County Historical Society logos. During business hours the volunteer docents are on hand to explain exhibits, answer questions, exchange stories, and just generally share the visitor’s experience.
In 2015 the Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum docents developed a Marketplace venue creating a new fundraising activity to benefit the museum while partnering with local artists and artisans. Three such Marketplace events were held during the year. All of the Ely docents and volunteers have made the project a huge success. More than just a fundraiser for Ely, the Marketplace has become a community event showcasing the museum property and possibly aiding in the recruitment of new volunteers. Along the way decisions have been made to enhance the Marketplace experience. The market is not to be perceived as an outlet for commercial merchandise. Most of the “vendors” sell handcrafted items or items that fit the Ely vintage character. Partnering with local artists and artisans has been a great learning experience for the Ely docents. They have taught us much and are considered to be yet another part of Ely’s “extended family”.
More Ely Marketplace events are being planned for 2016. Expect one to join both the May 1st and October 2nd Fiddlers’ Jams. A Christmas Marketplace will be repeated in December, that date to be determined.
Each year the docents nominate and vote on a “Docent of the Year”, an individual whose outstanding contributions of time and energy are recognized by fellow docents. Bill Lane was awarded the honor for 2012, Suzanne Schutz for 2013, and Pam Hendricks for 2014. This year I am so proud to have been given that honor for. The current docent/volunteer pool consists of a wonderful team of people who bring a variety of skills to make the stage stop a fun and exciting place to volunteer. They have truly become my “extended family”.
All Ely docents and volunteers were celebrated in 2014 as the Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum was presented with a Star of Lake County Award by the Lake County Chamber of Commerce in recognition for their contributions to Lake County. The award designated the museum as “Organization of the Year-Volunteer (All Volunteer Staff)”.
Everything about the Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum is a testament to what can be done by volunteers who are passionate about, and committed to a project. There is a tremendous amount of work still to be done. Improvements to the grounds are ongoing and, with the incredible support from visitors and the community received so far, the volunteers are confident that their future goals will be realized.
To that end, the Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum is in need of more docents to greet visitors and share information on our history, our current displays, and our planned events. Volunteers for maintenance and construction projects are also needed.
Come join the fun and be a volunteer at Ely!
Visit www.elystagestop.com or www.lakecountyhistory.org, check out the stage stop on Facebook at www.facebook.com/elystagestop, or call the museum at 707-533-9990.
Linda Drake receiving the Ely Stagestop & Country Museum’s Docent of the Year Award for 2015. Award being presented by Greg Dills, Ely Stage Stop Project Director, on January 9, 2016. Photo by Greg Blinn.