Since society’s founding in 1971, it has been curating and archiving local history in the form of official records, photographs and other artifacts.

The inaugural Prohibition Party will be held June 20 at the Villa Mira Monte site operated by the historical society.
Photo courtesy the Morgan Hill Historical Society

By Roger Knopf

Roger Knopf

History is like an onion. We keep peeling back the layers to find more history waiting to be uncovered, curated and shared.  For 50 years, our all-volunteer organization has worked to preserve the history of Morgan Hill, Coyote, Madrone and San Martin for the benefit of our community, including the young and the young at heart.

This work has taken many forms, including the development of Villa Mira Monte into the history park that it is today, supported by our relationship with the city of Morgan Hill and community partners. We led the renovation of two noteworthy houses that might otherwise have been demolished to make way for development.

The Hiram Morgan Hill House (1884-86) was built by our city’s namesake for his bride, Diana Murphy Hill, whose family had vast landholdings and whose impact on Santa Clara Valley involved the founding of towns, cities and schools. We led efforts to renovate the iconic house, open it to the public, and list it on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the years, many community events have taken place at the house, from picnics and wine tastings to history lectures, elementary school field trips and mariachi competitions. Local nonprofits without space of their own have held meetings there. The AAUW, Valle del Sur, South Valley Quilters, Leadership Morgan Hill and others come to mind.

The History Museum, formerly the Acton House (1911), was moved first from Warren Avenue to Main Avenue, and then to Villa Mira Monte on Monterey Road. Once again we led renovations, and then reopened the museum to the public. When the city was planning its Centennial Celebration, they called on the Historical Society to help. Our volunteers collaborated with the city and community partners to create the Centennial History Trail at Villa Mira Monte.

Today, historic milestones are memorialized on 100 tiles along its circular trail. Families enjoy walking the trail and learning about local history, from thousands of years ago when indigenous tribes inhabited this region, through the city’s 100th birthday in 2006. Beyond Villa Mira Monte, the society members have supported efforts to save a variety of historically important buildings and sites ranging from the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse to Sargent Ranch.

Since our founding in 1971, we’ve been curating and archiving local history in the form of official records, photographs and other artifacts donated by our members and the general public. Using these archives and other resources, our Education Program volunteers develop multi-cultural exhibits and trunk shows for the Morgan Hill school district and the community. Our Education program is supported by donations and public grants.

Volunteer docents have shared our history by giving tours of Villa Mira Monte and our historic downtown area, and leading group hikes up El Toro Mountain.

The Historical Society also preserves history through our Media Program, funded largely by public and private grants. This involves gathering, production and presentation of stories from bygone days. Oral histories are captured and integrated with written and photographic records, and then transformed into articles, blogs and documentary films. Our Education and Media Programs provide the community with a deeper understanding of the past and how it shapes the present.

The work of historic preservation requires us to research the past while embracing the future. Today we’re leveraging digital technology to collect, archive and present history and make it easily accessible to our community.

During the course of 50 years of historic preservation, our volunteers have contributed their talents, worn different hats, learned their local history, formed lasting friendships, and had the time of their lives. That’s how we roll!

Roger Knopf is the president of the board of directors for the Morgan Hill Historical Society.


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