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Unlocking the Doors to Shasta County’s History

On a cold December morning, the interior of the Shasta College Museum and Research Center looks not much like a museum — or a research center.

A few cobwebs linger in the corners of the cold, locked interior. Rows of stocked file cabinets line the walkway. Aisles of shelves hosting antiquated saddles, record players and the like become apparent as the lights work their way to the back of the building, where large filing cabinets hold coroner’s investigations dating back to 1851 and maps from the early 20th century.

The museum’s hidden treasures have seen very little use since 2005, but that’s about to change.

Shasta College has reached a collaborative agreement with Shasta Historical Society that allows the society to house some of the college’s artifacts on a loan basis. As a result, museum materials will be more easily available to students and community members alike. 

In the last few years, potential agreements between the college and society were quashed due to legal disagreements and ownership issues, Shasta College President Gary Lewis said during a recent visit to the museum.

“In 2005, the former president wanted to give the museum to the historical society,” Lewis said. But problems arose, in part because much of the college museum’s contents are on loan. “There turned out to be a big public outcry against that move.”

Instead, the college now has agreed to loan one-dimensional artifacts — like maps, death certificates and photos — to the society for the purpose of cataloging, inventorying and eventually digitizing the material. After the digitalizing is complete, the information will be accessible to other area museums through a satellite link.

The goal is for students and the public to be able to access the digitized material at the research center. The agreement allows the society to house the artifacts on a loan basis. Currently, there is no set date of return, but the society has agreed to return the artifacts to the college within 90 days, should it request the materials.

Back in the college’s museum, “Nothing’s easily found in here,” Lewis said. “We don’t have the resources to categorize or inventory anything.  We want this available for research purposes,” but the museum is so inaccessable that Lewis said he won’t even add his own family’s ancestral possessions, which date back to the 1850s. “Personally, I wouldn’t donate to this (college) museum right now – I’d donate it somewhere it could be enjoyed,” he said.

Lewis himself doesn’t have access to the college museum’s building, and when a security guard arrived and opened the door, the interior didn’t resemble a museum as much as a crowded garage.

For a short while, after museum staff was reallocated in 2005, the doors remained open to the public and students. But without enough supervision, the museum was locked because of concern that “some of the stuff might disappear,” Lewis said.

Lewis anticipates other museums in the area might show some dismay with the decision to loan the items to the Shasta Historical Society over other museums. But he hopes for cohesion between all interested parties.

“I’d really like to see collaboration between Shasta Historical and other museums in the area and (for us to) help promote one another. We want to be a partner in it,” he said.

Shasta Historical Society president Dave Scott agrees. “There are several satellite-linked historical groups, but we’re the largest and most well-funded, so the partnership was logical, but we certainly want to collaborate with the other museums,” he said.

The historical society has been in talks with a Phillip Cronenwett, a renowned consultant specializing in cataloging and inventorying museum artifacts. Cronenwett is expected to visit the museum in early February, at which time the society will have a firmer grasp on how large an undertaking the project will be, and how long it might take.

To tackle the project, the society is looking to bring on a handful of volunteers who will be in charge of organizing and scanning the documents. Additionally, Scott said, the society is looking to recruit one or two local librarians to liaise between the consultant and the staff of volunteers.

Joshua Corbelli is a freelance journalist in Redding. You may contact him at joshua.corbelli@gmail.com.

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