Lake Elsinore Historical Society was founded in 1996 to preserve the history of the Elsinore Valley. While there are many descendants of the pioneers who settled in the region, no one was collecting this information and housing it for future generations. A volunteer-run organization, the Society maintains a museum, curates community historical knowledge, and works with the city of Lake Elsinore when it needs historical information.
“We are just local people who came together to preserve our history and share it,” the Society’s President Kim McElroy said. “As the community grows and modernizes, you lose that view of what it once looked like and an understanding of the community you live in.”
Located in the basement of the City of Lake Elsinore’s Culture Center on North Main Street, the museum is open Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors are requested to use the Heald Avenue entrance and are encouraged to discover the area’s history. The Society has been collecting artifacts since 1996 and has displays that reflect the region’s history from the original indigenous residents to modern times.
The museum receives 20 to 50 visitors a month and the Society hopes that more of the community will discover the museum and take the time to explore it. While the Society is not actively pursuing docent-led tours, the volunteers still work with schools and host tours for children. The museum features displays that appeal to all ages and is currently looking to design more features for children. The museum also houses a small gift shop where shoppers can buy unique antiques and soon will be able to purchase branded merchandise.
The Society has worked on several projects with the city of Lake Elsinore, including restoring the old-fashioned streetlamps along Lakeshore Drive. First installed in the mid-1920s, the ornate columns were crumbling and glass globes broken. The Society shared photos of the original streetlamps and the city refurbished 17 of them back to their original glory. The Society also partnered in the restoration of the City’s 1925 American LaFrance fire engine, which has since been featured in city parades. The historic fire engine will ultimately have a place of honor in the reception area of City Hall.
Recently, the Lake Elsinore Historical Society was the recipient of a donation from the ThunderCares Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation to honor Ruth Atkins, the Society’s President Emeritus who passed away in December of 2022. The loss of Atkins and the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the Society’s efforts, but this year, the board will begin planning for fundraising events to grow its efforts and hopefully have employed staff in the future.
The Society meets once a month from September to June and the meetings are free for the community to attend. Food is provided and each meeting features a speaker that addresses local history or updates on the community. The Society welcomes community members to participate and to donate historical items about the City of Lake Elsinore.
Lake Elsinore was established in 1883 and incorporated in 1888. So, McElroy is also interested in family stories that pertain to the early years of the city.
“We love to hear stories of the past,” McElroy said. “We still have some of the family of the original pioneers and if there are people who have stories, we would love to collect them and make them a part of what we archive. Being able to gather this information is exciting for us.”
More information: http://www.lakeelsinorehistoricalsociety.org/ or (951) 579-4852
This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise November 2023.
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