Events honoring the city’s past will take place Sept. 11 and 12

The Morgan Hill Historical Society’s board of directors standing in front of the Hiram Morgan Hill House. Top row from left: Roger Knopf (president), Karl Bjarke (vice president), Ron Kuman (treasurer); bottom row from left: Kathy Chavez Napoli, Margo Hinnenkamp (secretary), Kathy Sullivan, and Ellie Weston. (Photo courtesy MHHS.)

By Marty Cheek

Fifty years ago, a group of residents with a passion for preserving the past came together and formed the Morgan Hill Historical Society. The accomplishments the nonprofit has achieved will be celebrated in mid-September with two free “History Weekend” events open to the public.

The society has a mission of stewardship and maintenance of the Villa Mira Monte property. The two-and-a-half acre site a few blocks north of downtown Morgan Hill on Monterey Road is where the Hiram Morgan Hill House (built in 1884) and the city’s history museum are located. The site is recognized in the National Register of Historic Places and designated by the city of Morgan Hill as a history park.

From left, volunteer Michelle McKay, Nils Myers, Robin Shepherd, and Larry Carr will participate in the weekend’s events. Photo courtesy MHHS

“Our mission is to collect, preserve and present the history of our community,” said MHHS Board President Roger Knopf. “We have the responsibility to maintain and preserve our city’s most prominent historical site.”

The events start Saturday, Sept. 11 with an open house at Villa Mira Monte from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“It’s relatively low key focused on the history of our community and the society,” Knopf said. “This isn’t the county fair and this isn’t a carnival. If you have an interest in the history and heritage of your community, come out and spend a couple of hours with us. Bring a picnic, enjoy the beautiful grounds.”

During the open house, docents will take guests through the Morgan Hill House as well as the museum. The tours depend on what public health requirements are in place because of COVID-19, he emphasized.

During the open house, the society plans to have every hour on the hour a presentation of about three minutes from the veranda by a speaker knowledgeable of some aspect of the history of the community. Following the short talk, listeners can ask questions to get more in-depth on the topic.

The society will hold every hour on the half-hour a tour of the Centennial History Trail on the grounds of Villa Mira Monte. Built for the 100th anniversary of Morgan Hill city’s incorporation in 2006, the spiral trail has plaques chronologically highlighting various highlights of local history. On the quarter to the hour every hour, society board member Kathy Napoli will present a “mini-trunk show” where she will entertain guests — especially young ones — with a fun presentation of local history.

The History Week continues 3 p.m. Sept. 12, at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse with the free showing of a special documentary about the community’s history and how the historical society has played a role in preserving and sharing it with the public.

The film is the first in a three-part series called “History Makers.” The series was funded by a private grant from an anonymous benefactor and the other two documentaries will come out in 2022 and 2023.

“We’re doing something very different with this film. We’re very excited because we have two narrators,” said Robin Shepherd, a MHHS board member. “The goal is to give people a true sense of these amazing assets, the Hiram Morgan Hill House, the museum and the Centennial History Trail and all the programs the historical society puts on for the community.”

The film’s narrators are Michelle McKay, a board member of the Edward Boss Prado Foundation, and Larry Carr, a former Morgan Hill city councilmember. The documentary will give viewers a tour of the Queen Anne-style home, accented with the memories of various residents, she said.

The  Villa Mira Monte site operated by the historical society.
Photo courtesy the Morgan Hill Historical Society

“(Villa Mira Monte) is the city’s most prominent community asset,” she said. “We provide a lot of services to the city and it benefits a lot of causes. Our key goal is for people to learn more about us and the community that they live in.”

One goal of the society in the coming years is to encourage more diversity among the many ethnic groups who have influenced Morgan Hill history and reflect a broader range of stories. In the past, the society has had exhibits presenting the story of the indigenous people who lived in South Valley thousands of years prior to the Spanish conquest of California.

“We’re trying to do a better job in representing them and collecting their history and sharing their stories,” Sullivan said.