The Murphys Old Timers Museum once again faces an uncertain future. The collection of artifacts and much more centered on the history of the town and surrounding areas has been a labor of love for Murphys residents for decades.
In 1949, residents across California celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Gold Rush. The centennial sparked renewed interest in Gold Rush history and also revived efforts to preserve it. It was during this year that Ethelyn and Coke Wood purchased the Peter L. Traver building in Murphys and opened the Old Timers Museum.
Coke Wood authored several books on local history, was a frequent visitor to the area and taught for years as a history professor at University of the Pacific in Stockton.
At first, the museum consisted of only a handful of objects of historical interest collected by the Woods and displayed on several tables. Over the following years, the community pitched in and donated many more items, expanding the collection and drawing in increasing numbers of visitors.
By 1960, the collection of objects exceeded the capacity of the building to house them, and the Forrester building was constructed behind the Traver building to display the larger items.
In the mid-1960s, the Hauselt Blacksmith Shop was built with the help of Verne Hauselt, a former blacksmith born in Murphys in 1894. The blacksmith shop was dedicated and became part of the museum in 1965.
Facing the street on the western wall of the adjoining Thompson building is the “Wall of Comparative Ovations.” The wall consists of over 80 plaques honoring state history, dedicated by E. Clampus Vitus, or the “Clampers,” an organization devoted to the study and preservation of Western heritage, and an important supporter of the museum.
The Peter L. Traver building, the oldest stone structure in town and a State Historical Landmark, has been an important part of Murphys since 1856, when it was built by Peter L. Traver as a general merchandise store. Constructed with stone walls, iron shutters and six inches of sand on the roof, it survived while other buildings around it were destroyed during devastating fires in 1859, 1874 and 1893.
Over the years, the building has been used as a general store, a Wells Fargo Express office, a telegraph office and an auto garage.
The garage was the last business to operate in the building before its restoration. Jack Morley, the proprietor, cut a large door for automobiles in the front of the building. This weakened the front wall, adding to other problems with the structure that had accumulated over the years.
When the Woods purchased the building in 1949, it was badly in need of renovation. Before the museum opened, they had to make extensive repairs that included strengthening the walls and replacing the roof.
Following the passing of Ethelyn and Coke Wood, their daughter and her husband, along with many volunteers, carried on their work. For almost 70 years, the Traver and Forrester buildings remained in the hands of the Wood family.
However, in 2016, the Woods’ grandchildren sold the two buildings. Since then, rent has increased, stretching the finances of the nonprofit organization that manages the facility. The buildings are now again on the market, and the future of the Old Timers Museum is uncertain.
Museum staff is made up entirely of volunteers, and it is financed by donations and book and souvenir sales. It is also a nonprofit, community-based museum with a board of directors.
The board is hopeful that the buildings will be purchased by local investors dedicated to keeping the museum intact and preserving the rich history of Murphys for future generations.
The Old Timers Museum, 470 Main St., Murphys, and is open from 12 to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and on Monday holidays. Walking tours of Murphys depart from the museum every Saturday at 10 a.m.