Classrooms that used to be full of students are now filled with artifacts that depict the history of Patagonia. The Patagonia Museum is one of several restored historic buildings that now serve a different purpose with hopes that they will continue to teach visitors the value of preserving the town’s history.
The building, known as “Old Main,” was a school from 1914 until May 2014. It reopened as a museum in 2016. The school was originally a brick building but was stuccoed over in the 1950s. It was painted white with maroon shutters that match the color of the Spanish tile roof.
German Quiroga, president of the Patagonia Museum, says that visitors are pleased to see it being maintained, especially those who grew up in the region and went to school there.
“People come to be inside the building where they went to school or their mom and dad went to school,” Quiroga said. “I don’t know what it is about it, but people enjoy it. They are happy to see it kept up and kept in place.”
As you walk around the museum, old brown wooden planks squeak with each step. Large LED lights hang from the ceiling to brighten the rooms. Each former classroom now displays what made the town of Patagonia unique: The “Ranching Heritage” room showcases old leather cowboy boots and saddles used by nearby ranchers. The “Centennial Celebration” room honors the town’s centennial in 1998. The “Journey Stories” room holds old school supplies like individual chalkboards, rusted metal compasses and dictionaries with cracked spines.
Most of the artifacts have been donated, according to Quiroga. “It gives our community a sense of place and something to remember so we don’t forget what it was like,” He said. “Anything we can do to promote our history, spreading the word about our history and appreciation and awareness of our history.”
The Patagonia Museum was the second historic school building in eastern Santa Cruz County that Quiroga helped restore. His first project began in 2009, when he found out that the Lochiel Schoolhouse was in disrepair and had been vandalized. Before the renovations, the schoolhouse had shattered windows and even bullet holes in the walls.
Most of the work done on the Lochiel Schoolhouse was completed by local volunteers, though people from as far away as Wisconsin participated in renovations. “We do have a volunteer list; I have counted it, it’s easily over 100, maybe reaching 200 people that have come out,” Quiroga said.
Patagonia reuses a lot of its buildings. A former meat market is now a Seventh-day Adventist Church. The old railroad depot is now Patagonia Town Hall. Patagonia Lumber Company is now a pilates studio.
Another re-purposed building is Cady Hall, which opened as a hotel in 1901 and now serves as the Patagonia Public Library. The establishment used to host guests for a night’s stay, but now it hosts interested minds, offering them books and digital items to read, as well as opportunities to learn more about the local history.
According to the Patagonia Public Library website, its restoration began in 1990 when the Cady Hall Restoration committee raised $250,000 in donations and grants and used them to help the Hall remain useful.
“Through donations and a lot of advocacy they were able to save the library,” Library Director Laura Wenzel said. Wenzel said that the restoration process has been an ongoing project over the years. It needed much more than just basic building restoration. The foyer, one of the bathrooms, and the kitchen had to be completely rebuilt.
“I do think it is important for people to still be able to access and use these amazing feats of architecture,” Wenzel said. Preservation is important to Patagonians, she noted.
“You have to listen to what the community wants and the community wants these buildings to be preserved and taken care of for as long as possible,” she said.