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Blog Museums of Madera County – They’re Not a Place of Artifacts, They’re a Place of Ideas
Alex Silgalis | 06/28/2022Family Friendly, Museums, History & Culture, Road Trip |   

No matter how many documentaries you watch or books you read, museums provide visitors a chance to see and touch things in the real world. It helps open your mind. Gives us a glimpse into the past and educates our future generations. While the big rock in Yosemite may be why you came, these local museums of Madera County are the perfect accompaniment to help you further appreciate the world we live in today.

Thornberry Museum

Exploring pioneer history at the Thornberry Museum

Back in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the mountains above Oakhurst were filled with the sound of lumberjacks felling and processing trees. The Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company in its heyday had over 140 miles of rail running through the forest to haul the cut trees out of the rugged mountain terrain before transporting the lumber down to the city of Madera, and then on to the world. Much of that pioneer life is long gone but within the Thornberry Museum, you’ll see actual tools used nearly a century ago as well as how life was for the first European inhabitants of the region. It's a great addition to the fun and piece of history you get to experience first hand here, by hopping on an actual narrow-gauge locomotive at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County

Columbian Mammoth at the Fossil Discovery CenterThe La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles may be one of the best known ancient fossil sites in California, but do you know where one of the largest collections of in California is found? You guessed it – right here in Madera County! The “gold mine” of fossils was accidentally found in 1993 due to the expansion project of the Fairmead landfill. Since then over 15,000 fossils have been unearthed and this treasure trove of artifacts is displayed at the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County. It’s become one of our favorite kid-friendly activities to do in Madera County. You’ll see bones showing teeth marks from dire wolves, skulls of short-faced bears and smilodons, and even a replica of a 14-foot tall Western camel. In fact, California was home to not one but eight species of camel which went extinct 11,000 years ago.

Coarsegold Historical Society & Museum

Coarsegold Historical Society and MuseumOpen typically May through October, the town’s historical society has three buildings on its property. A schoolhouse that taught Chukchansi children from 1913 to 1956. A packed adobe structure used as a way station for horse-drawn freight carriages from the turn of the century. And lastly, a barn that's been restored and houses historical society offices and a room dedicated to local Indian artifacts. You’ll find a well-maintained cozy museum featuring passionate individuals that regale you with stories, local lore, and so much more. Well worth the trip to get a deeper understanding of the region. Also, the Coarsegold Museum is a great dog-friendly activity in Madera County.

Madera County Museum

Madera Courthouse Museum frontLocated in the heart of the city of Madera in the old Madera County courthouse. Built in 1900, this building now houses the museum and home to the Madera Historical Society. Within its four walls, you’ll find exhibits such as a restored court room, basketry from several local tribes, and a reconstructed section of the legendary Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company Flume. If you’re in town during the month of December, be sure to stop by their Christmas displays. Each room is decorated by different people and groups helping you get into the holiday spirit.

Sierra Mono Museum & Cultural Center

The history of the inhabitants of Sierra Foothills goes way back before the 1st European settlers adventured in the region. Many tribes called the foothills and mountains of the Sierra home, some for thousands of years.  The Sierra Mono Museum & Cultural Center in North Fork, now re-opened after a multi-year renovation project, is the perfect place to see how some the native inhabitants lived and give you an appreciation of the Mono culture. Here you can find the largest display of Mono Indian Baskets in the state of California, countless examples of the wildlife that have, and still do, play a major role in Mono culture today.  Hours vary and there a various cultural events and activities offered, so make to check their website for the latest up-to-date info. www.monomuseum.org

Wassama Round House State Historic Park

The location has been the traditional meeting place of the Southern Sierra Miwok people and is still used today. Back in the 1860’s, the Wassama Round House State Historic Park was home to four round houses. Although the site no longer has all four, there is one left built in 1903 and renovated in 1985. The park plays host to events such as basket weaving, craft making, native dancing, and even a powwow for young and old in October.

From extinct animals you’ve never even heard of to up close and personal views of the native tribes, these local museums in Madera County will enrich your soul and deepen your appreciation of the region and its history.

Alex Silgalis

Alex founded localfreshies.com® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
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