Truckee’s Gems – The Museum of Truckee history, more

Judy DePuy
The historical display for the winter season.
Provided/Judy DePuy

Have you visited the local museums in Truckee? Most specifically have you visited the newest museum, the Museum of Truckee History?

Ideally local museums provide the history of the area and put the stories into the context of the times. They should answer the questions of what was happening back then and what was the atmosphere in the community. As Kathleen Eagan, Truckee’s first mayor, said “losing our museums, we will lose our identity”.

There are three incredible museums here in Old Town Truckee, each of which tells a portion of Truckee’s history with colorful stories of the good, the bad and the truth of the Western expansion.

The Museum of Truckee History (MoTH) is unique in that it tells the story of why Truckee survived when so many towns along the Transcontinental Railroad disappeared. Nine interactive displays, with accompanying artifacts, bring the history alive and allows a deeper insight into each subject matter.

Upon entering the MoTH, you first walk into the trainmaster’s office in Truckee’s train depot which was built in 1900. From there you learn about the early residents in the area, the Native Americans and how Truckee got its name.

The lodging and lumber display at the Museum of Truckee History.
Provided/Judy DePuy

The truth can sometimes be difficult. The Chinese were brought in and critical to the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Once the railroad was completed, the Chinese found themselves without a job and a way to live. Many of the Chinese wanted to stay in the area and took on jobs that no one else wanted to do.

Logging was a huge industry for Truckee. The lumber was used to help build the railroad, the Comstock mines in Virginia City, cordwood and building materials. Near the same time as the railroad completion, the local logging industry was declining because most of the surrounding trees had been cut down. There were many unemployed loggers in the area and the ice industry was a seasonal job.

The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in 1882, banned the immigration of Chinese laborers, and dozens of communities across the western United States expelled their Chinese residents. Here in Truckee the Chinese knowledge of herbs and the human body helped many of Truckee’s residents since there was only one doctor in town and medical knowledge was limited.

The museum goes on to cover Truckee’s ice industry, California’s first true lager beer, the beginning of winter sports to the area and where Truckee is today. The last display covers the railroad and how Truckee would not have existed without it. Truckee continues to evolve and is poised to remain a robust community.

Jessica Penman, President & CEO of the Truckee Chamber of Commerce, said it well:

“Local history museums in Truckee, California, play a pivotal role in preserving and celebrating the rich heritage of the region, and their importance extends far beyond nostalgia and education. These museums serve as cultural anchors that draw visitors and residents alike to explore the town’s history, fostering a deeper connection to the community. Our three little museums allow us to respect and learn

about our history while acknowledging our movement forward. The Museum of Truckee History is a small but mighty museum. I was very impressed with the amount of information that the museum is able to present in such a small space. My favorite part is the information on the ice business. If you weren’t familiar with this area I don’t think you would have any idea that ice was such an important part of the development of Truckee.”

The other museums in Old Town include Truckee’s Old Jail Museum and the Truckee Railroad Museum.

Truckee’s Old Jail Museum is one of the few remaining original Old West jails. Built in 1875, and built six years after the opening of the Transcontinental Railroad, its thick mortar and rock walls held many a rabble-rouser, murderer, and logger (who may have been enjoying his time off from work a bit too much).

The Truckee Railroad Museum tells the story of the Transcontinental Railroad and its coming to Truckee. Beginning with a vision by Theodore Judah, the railroad slowly made the difficult passage over the Sierra. It also tells the tale of entrepreneurs being able to grow the community. Getting here and maintaining the rails every year has and always will be a challenge.

Stefanie Olivieri of Cabona’s reinforced the importance of Truckee’s museums. She talked about how museums are important for not only keeping the character of the town alive but also a thriving place to live. “Historic Truckee brings people to our community where we work hard to preserve the natural beauty and historic buildings of the area.” Note that the retail store, Cabona’s, is housed in a building that was built in the 1800s and is part of the story. She recognizes that we have to continually work on making sure we don’t lose our identity.

Supporting the need to keep Truckee’s history the Truckee-Donner Historical Society has a research cabin filled with books, letters, photos, maps and much more covering the local area.

In conclusion..

Truckee was a rough and tumble mountain town with a unique and colorful history. It took years and a lot of hard work to make Truckee an official town. Its museums are a huge asset to the community and need to be preserved. It’s the stories and keeping of its character that makes the town so special and why we need to support the museums.

About the author:

Judy DePuy is a volunteer with the Truckee-Donner Historical and Donner Summit Historical Societies. She is a board member for the Museum of Truckee History and Truckee Donner Railroad Society. She lives in Tahoe Donner with her husband, Dave, and dog, Morticia.

Explore Downtown

The Truckee Chamber operates the Truckee Welcome Center downtown and is always thrilled when someone comes in and asks if there is somewhere they can learn about the unique and rich history of our region. Tourists are drawn to these museums, and while visiting, they often explore nearby businesses, dine in local restaurants, and shop in stores, injecting much-needed revenue into the local economy. The presence of these museums not only enhances the town’s unique character but also contributes substantially to its economic vitality.

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