what is a working museum?
A Working Museum is a gem and a prized destination for anyone who wants to understand how things work. What did it do, how was it operated, what did it sound and smell like, how fast did it run, how did the machine and operator work together? All of these questions are answered as you watch living history at our working museum, Sturgeon’s Mill.
Working Museums have all of the components of static museums with the added pluses that the processes and operations of the antiquities being displayed have been restored to working order. If there are parts that are missing or break on the equipment they have to be repaired or replaced as our ancestors did; by making a new part by hand allowing the antique machines to safely perform their original tasks and duties of milling logs into lumber.
Sturgeon’s Mill is a Working Museum. It began its life in 1913 when Wade Sturgeon set up the sawmill in Coleman Valley several miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The mill operated there till 1923 when it was dismantled, loaded on wagons and pulled by horses seven miles further inland and reassembled at its present location on Green Hill road Sebastopol CA. In 1943 the mill was sold to partners Ralph Sturgeon and James E. Henningsen. They ran the mill until it was closed in 1964. This shuttered mill then slumbered for 30 years.
Sturgeon’s Mill started it’s rebirth in the early 1990’s as “The Sturgeon’s Mill Restoration Project.” This abandoned sawmill was an almost 100 year old accumulation of rusting machines, steam engines, hand tools, old trucks and wagons plus receipts of transactions and canceled pay checks that miraculously had never been discarded, dismantled or sold.
In the early 1990’s a core group of seven former mill-workers and historians began the process of restoring the mill piece by piece; repairing, rebuilding and getting this rare steam powered sawmill running. Today, two decades later our sawmill runs on steam with 60 enthusiastic volunteer crew members that operate the mill and conduct tours at our saw milling demonstration runs on four summer weekends each year.
When one visits our working museum they get all of the information that a static museum provides. Pictures, displays and guided tours but here at Sturgeon’s mill you actually get to see up close the engines, machines, hand-tools in use and you get to see the crew-members working in concert with these ancient machines.
In addition to seeing the saw milling processes in action, visitors to our museum have the opportunity to step inside the sawmill at designated times throughout the day and talk to our crew members as they stand at their work positions and answer questions about their jobs, the milling process and the machines they operate.
What makes this working museum so rare? All of the original structures and equipment remain. All of the original hand tools are here and regularly used. The original office building and equipment remain with the original paychecks and invoices. These records identify the businesses, farms and ranches of West Sonoma County in the 1940’s to the 1960’s. An original black and white film from 1927 shows the mill running exactly as it does now. See the recent film available for purchase at the registration table and on-line at our general store.
Visitors to our working museum get to see, hear, smell, touch and understand the history and processes of logging and lumber milling in Western Sonoma County and experience late 19th and early 20th Century logging and saw milling as it actually happened here in Western Sonoma County.
Visitors that seek a more tranquil visit to our museum are welcome to follow the wandering paths in the historically famous “Woodland Gardens” that are adjacent to our beautiful picnic grounds.
Come join us this summer, come “Step Back into History” with us at Sturgeon’s Mill, “A Working Museum.”