Thursday, February 23, 2017

80 North: Benicia, Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns


Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns  2060 Camel Rd., 1.7 mi. E of town (it is out of the way; call for directions), (707) 745-5435.  W-Sun 1-4.  $5, 65+ $3, 6-12 $2, 1st W free.  Tours by arrangement.  Situated within one of the 1850s sandstone warehouses on this former military compound, this museum tells the story of this area.

entrance to Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California
entrance to Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California

Part of its name comes from the fact that a camel corps that served as military pack animals were brought here to be auctioned in 1864.  The animals were housed not in barns but outside in pens, though their food and equipment were stored in what is now the museum.  Many wound up later in Gold Rush country and then were eventually released in the Mojave Desert, where a few got a part in the 1939 movie “Gunga Din.”  Some descendants remain in the desert--sort of like the donkeys in Oatman, Arizona.  The land was originally owned by the Patwin Indians, then became a ranch, then was owned General Vallejo who eventually sold it to the army, which in 1964 sold it to the City of Benicia (it is said that this was the first time the army sold land on the installment plan).  As might be expected, the museum has a display of all kinds of camels,

carved camel at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California
carved camel at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California

but you’ll also see the elaborate Dolores Webb doll house complete with led lighting,

Dolores Webb doll house at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California
Dolores Webb doll house at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California

the Benicia history quilt,

Benicia history quilt at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California
Benicia history quilt at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California

and more ceramic tile murals by Guillermo Wagner Granizo (like those seen along First Street).

ceramic tile camel mural at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California
ceramic tile camel mural at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California

A children’s activity area has games and coloring pages.  Do take a tour if available, because the docents are passionate about the museum’s history, and most of them have spent plenty of time building display cases and helping upgrade exhibits. 

Out back, an 1857 powder magazine--constructed with bricks carved by Italian artisans from rock quarried on the site--is available to view only by special tour (the same mason marks are seen at the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma.

exterior of powder magazine at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California
exterior of powder magazine at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California

It requires a short walk over a locked-off road, where we saw a large jack rabbit and were warned to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes.

locked gate at powder magazine at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California
locked gate at powder magazine at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California

All floors and carvings are original.  In fact, you can still see the writing on the walls put there by German POWS during World War II.

interior of powder magazine at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California
interior of powder magazine at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California

writing of German POWs on walls at powder magazine at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California
writing of German POWs on walls at powder magazine at Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California

For many years, this cool space was then used to store civil defense materials.  Another warehouse building in back features an interior designed to look like a 19th-century industrial wharf.  It features a small model train display and an operating mine model. 

warehouse in back of Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California
warehouse in back of Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns in Benicia, California

More things to do in Benicia.
 
Travel articles to inspire and help you plan some spectacular getaways.  

images ©2017 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

 

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