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Historical Society, Museum Weathers Pandemic Storm
historical museum
The former Riverbank Library building, as it now appears, in use as the Riverbank Historical Museum on Santa Fe Street in downtown. The building reverted to the city when the new county library branch was built further east on Santa Fe. A group of citizens formed the Historical Society in the late ‘90s and the building was selected for the National List of Historic Places. It now houses the society’s archives and other memorabilia on display for the public.

Like most other public places, in Riverbank and across the world, the Historical Museum in downtown closed in the second week of March this year. But like many other businesses and organizations, the Riverbank Historical Society is planning a comeback for some time next year.

For the past six months, the museum, a former Carnegie Library, has remained unused, with its displays, photographs, memorabilia and many other items just as they were left back in March. And, like many other Riverbank civic organizations, the Historical Society has been forced to abandon its many public activities, including its annual After Mother’s Day Omelette Breakfast, normally held in May.

Society President Kristin Platts has said the society board was able to meet just once so far, via Zoom, during the pandemic, but has discussed upcoming possibilities. She said some thought had been given to trying to do the breakfast as a “drive-thru” event, but plans for that remain somewhat up in the air.


Little Library Project

Platts also said the board had discussed a couple of possibilities of working with the ‘Little Libraries’ seen around town in some neighborhoods.

She said the board has discussed the possibility of taking over care and feeding of a unit that is at Castleberg Park.

Platts said they learned that the Riverbank Rotary Club had been maintaining the unit, but thought the club had disbanded. And, she said, it appears that the little library unit there has fallen into disrepair, showing signs of a hole in its roof.

The little libraries have popped up all over town, built and maintained by individuals and groups that maintain the free, community traded book depots, usually on a post near a sidewalk.

And, Platts noted, the society board has also discussed the possibility of installing one of the lending units in front of the museum. She said they hoped to be able to find someone who could build one that looked like a miniature version of the museum itself.


Annex Fundraising To Continue

And Platts stressed that the annex project would be continuing as pandemic measures eased, with more fundraising efforts, probably next year.

That, she said, would coincide with a planned centennial celebration honoring the construction of the Carnegie Library, now the museum, back in 1921.

According to museum records, the library almost wasn’t built here in Riverbank.

When money for the construction was offered to city leaders, the popular thinking at the time was that Riverbank didn’t need a library, and they didn’t want to come up with the city’s contribution to the cost.

But when word got out that the Carnegie money would then be offered to another small city, like maybe Patterson, efforts to gather Riverbank’s contribution materialized, the current location was purchased, and the city got its library.

When Stanislaus County Library took over the system, it built a newer branch library building a few further blocks east on Santa Fe Street, and the property was given to the city. It sat empty for a while, then the Chamber of Commerce began using it as an office.

In 1995, a group of citizens formed the Historical Society, turning the building into the museum it is now. In 1996, a monument was erected in front of the building commemorating its inclusion in the National Registry of Historic Places. It was dedicated on Feb. 2, 1997, with the monument indicating the ceremony was performed by a local unit of E Clampus Vitus.