Our History

Edited July 10, 2015

The earliest origins of the Lake County Historical Society are lost in the mists of the past — for now. It is believed, however, that the organization was founded some time during the 1930s before being disbanded at the outset of World War II for the duration of that conflict. The first meeting after the war for which there are minutes was held on January 10, 1946, in Bachelor Valley. It was noted in the surviving minutes that no by-laws for the Society existed, so a committee was formed to do so and to schedule the election of officers for October of 1946. Guido DeGitalete was elected as the re-constituted group’s first President. Interestingly, the stated purpose for commencing with the organization was to take advantage of Bachelor Valley’s schoolhouse, which was then standing empty, as a meeting place!

The Lake County Historical Society became a county organization on August 9, 1955, mainly through the efforts of Madora Davidson Johnson. In August of 1963 the Society formally acquired its current non-profit, tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.

The purpose of the Lake County Historical Society expanded in the second decade of the twenty-first century with responsibility for a new project, the Ely Stage Stop and Country Museum. The Ely Stage Stop building has had several incarnations over the years dating back to about 1864 or 1865. It has served as a public house, stagecoach stop, hotel, post office, school for wayward boys, general store, and even as a gas station before taking on its current role as a historical preservation center. Future archeological research may help us pinpoint the precise date of its origin.

On July 24, 2011, the Ely Stage Stop and Country Museum was opened to the public for the first time by the Lake County Historical Society and Lake County. It is located at 9921 Highway 281 (Soda Bay Road) between Kelseyville and Lower Lake. This collaborative project is owned by the County of Lake and is operated by the Lake County Historical Society. The project was made possible through a donation of the historic building and the five-acre parcel upon which it rests by Andy and Betty Beckstoffer of Beckstoffer Vineyards and an additional donation from the Kettenhofen Family Foundation, a charitable foundation established and funded by the estate of Ernest and Polly Kettenhofen who owned the S-Bar-S Ranch from approximately 1960 to 2000.

The Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum historic building, considered to be one of the oldest “stick built” buildings in Lake County, was moved from its prior location on Highway 29 in 2007. After the move, Lake County’s Public Service Department took on the task of installing the building on the site, bringing in utilities, restoring the inside and constructing the entrance, driveway, and parking area. Since then much progress has been made in transforming the property into the vision under which the original project was conceived. Much research, creativity and effort was required to restore the main house into the showcase it has become today, from wallpaper selections to construction of the beautiful wrap-around porch. What resulted is a beautiful museum with ever-changing displays for the public to enjoy. The house has been used for a variety of fund-raising events such as a Farm-to-Table Dinner in 2012, the annual June Picnic on the Porch in 2013, 2014 and 2016, Whiskey In America tasting in 2014 and History on the Porch which began in 2015 with long-time Lake County residents recounting their personal experiences either growing up or living in Lake County.

The annual Art and Science Camp, sponsored by the Children’s Museum of Art and Science, has been co-hosted by the Stage Stop and the Taylor Observatory in Kelseyville for the last three years. The living history presentations by Stage Stop docents are always a hit with the fourth through sixth grade students. The Camp returns for a fourth year in May.

Excitement really grew as the first barn construction got under way. The completed structure has afforded a refuge for our stage coach, various wagons, and other equipment needing protection from the elements. Gracing the barn is our Carpenter’s Star quilt block, donated anonymously through the Lake County Quilt Trail Project. The block was temporarily mounted on the wrap-around-porch, but it now has a permanent home on the barn. The carpenter theme highlights the many hours of manual labor volunteers have donated to make this first barn possible.
The barn has also become a popular event venue. The Stage Stop partners with the Northern California Old Time Fiddlers Association on the first Sunday of each month for Fiddlers’ Jam Sessions. Lake County has a bounty of talented musicians and the barn has proven to be the perfect venue to celebrate these local musicians and the American music heritage from the Ely Stage Stop Victorian Era. Our community has passionately embraced this cultural opportunity.

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.

Sturdy picnic tables afford picnicking on the grounds in fair weather. An historic1890‘s cable car and “Wiley” signal light reside at the Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum for the public’s enjoyment. When you drive by 9921 State Hwy 281 (better known as Soda Bay Road) you will know exactly where to find the Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum. The long awaited signage was erected in May of 2014. Bearing the striking Ely logo, the sign greets visitors and lures passers-by regardless of which direction they are traveling.

The current project being undertaken is the all-volunteer building of a working blacksmith shop which will serve as another interpretive and living history exhibit. Phase one of that complex is shaping up now next to the first barn.

The Gibson Museum & Cultural Center is opened as a new project of the Lake County Historical Society in May of 2014. In the Spring of 2013, as Middletown’s Gibson Library prepared to move into its handsome new quarters in the new Community Center across the street, local residents became concerned about the future use of the small building the library had occupied.

Middletown residents knew that years before Martha Webster, founder of the Middletown Historical Society, had “put dibs” on the Gibson Building for use as a museum of local history.

At the March meeting of the Middletown Luncheon Club a questionnaire returned equal votes for historical museum and for an arts center, thus the project became a museum and cultural center. Fifteen persons volunteered to work on the project. The Gibson group first met in April where Voris Brumfield volunteered to be lead person. On learning that the Middletown Historical Society’s nonprofit status had been allowed to elapse, it was agreed that the Gibson group could most efficiently operate as a project of the Lake County Historical Society, thus insuring immediate nonprofit status, by-laws, and liability coverage.

In April 2014, formal agreements with the Historical Society and with the County of Lake, which owns the building, have been forged, after lengthy negotiations.

In May the website, middletownhistory.com, was duplicated as cgibsonmuseum.com; both names will remain active. The “c” honors Chauncey Gibson, original donor of the building, and became necessary because the gibsonmuseum domain name had been claimed by Yuba County. In June, Gibson won second place in the popular Middletown Days parade with several members dressed as well-known characters from our local history.

The County of Lake has extended the use of the building rent-free for use as a museum, and will be responsible for maintaining the integrity of the structure. The Gibson group, acting as a committee of the Lake County Historical Society, is responsible for day-to-day maintenance, renovation as a museum, staffing, utilities, and its operation, will be supported solely by donations of time, labor, money and historical artifacts.

Much has been accomplished by the group’s volunteers. Numerous digitized photos and considerable historical information accepted; much is currently available on this website. Fund-raising efforts continue while a twelve month schedule for displays has been approved. Landscaping was designed and established by the Hidden Valley Lake Garden Club, professional promotional materials designed. The grand opening of the Gibson Museum & Cultural Center celebration was held on May 3, 2014.

The Gibson Museum in March of 2017, after nearly three years operating successfully under the Lake County Historical Society, had its ownership transferred to the County Museum System where it will have experienced museum staff to organize the collections and provide training for its volunteers.


Lake County Historical Society Presidents

Bennett Green — 1956

Henry Mauldin — 1957 to 1959

Ed Ruyon — 1960

Phil Nunnemaker — 1961

Glenyth Johnson — 1962 to 1966

Bill Smart — 1967

Hal Wolf — 1968 to 1972

Charles J. Freeman –1973 to 1974

Ruby Glebe — 1975

Norma Wright — 1976 to 1981

Ruby Glebe — 1982

Norma Wright — 1983 to 1993

Donna Howard — 1993 (In the spring the Vice-President finished the term.)

Norma Wright — 1994 to 1997

Ruby Glebe — 1997 (In the spring the Vice-President finished the term.)

Randy Ridgel — 1998 to 2003

Tony Marchese — 2004 to 2005

Randy Ridgel — 2006 to 2010

Phil Smoley — 2010 to 2013

Voris Brumfield — 2013 to 2019

Marilyn Holdenried — 2019 to present