Inside a glass case in the historic Carnegie Library is a rusted spice box and a spread of coins from inside the box. Someone was saving them until something happened and the treasure was never retrieved. Years later, the spice box was discovered buried under an oak tree in Paso Robles. Who was saving the coins? What dreams were these coins meant to fulfill? Was it a young boy or girl, or maybe their grandmother saving the coins for a special gift? Imagine her sigh of satisfaction each time she added a coin and counted them all once more before replacing the box and reburying it. What happened to the person who was saving this treasure?
The exhibits at El Paso de Robles Area Historical Society provoke this kind of curiosity. Because of the diligent work of local researchers and Historical Society members many of the mysteries about local history are also answered.
Even the building housing the Historical Society has roots in Paso Robles history. The Historic Carnegie Library, designed in Classic Revival architecture and built by a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, was opened in 1908. The library is one of many historic Carnegie Libraries throughout California and became home to the Historical Society in 1995. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
Walking through the front door is entering a snapshot of local history, frozen in time yet oddly living in the imagination. There are continuing rotations of collections reflecting people and events as well as intriguing permanent collections. The gift shop offers vintage and antique items for sale that have been donated to the society by local residents, books by local authors and educational toys and books for children.
The permanent collections include area newspapers starting in the 1800s, San Luis Obispo County books and patents from 1850 to 1946, a large collection of area photographs, and much more. “Treasures and Secrets Hidden in the North County” is a permanent display curated by the Hiner Group. The display rotates periodically as new treasures are discovered and contains the found spice box and coins. More displays on the first floor include a very large collection of vintage encyclopedias and reference books and historic displays featuring artifacts and interpretations from several historical periods.
The Virginia Peterson Research Room, located on the lower level of the Carnegie Library, is the repository for the many collections and research materials and is open to the public on Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by appointment. Historical Society volunteers are available to assist with research requests.
The Historic Carnegie Library is located in downtown Paso Robles City Park between Spring Street and Park Street and 10th Street and 11th Street. The El Paso de Robles Area Historical Society is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed on Monday and Wednesday. Telephone: (805) 238-4996. The web site is pasorobleshistoricalsociety.org.
– Jackie Iddings