The concept of an active "living museum" is evidenced by the dozens of different exhibits, events, meetings and functions held at the Plumas County Museum in Quincy, California.
Permanent exhibits include an outstanding collection of baskets woven by the area's original Mountain Maidu Indians. The Industrial History Wing features Railroads of Plumas County, Gold Mining on the Feather River, and TIMBER!, an exhibit about the lumber industry of the county. Other collections include natural history specimens, audio-visual resources, the Chinese influence, historical competitive ski racing known as "longboarding," medical exhibits, and children's toys.
The Exhibit Yard provides visitors with a look at some of the equipment used by Plumas pioneers to wrest a living from the area's natural resources. A sleigh, water wagon, hydraulic mining monitors, logging equipment, a working blacksmith shop, a stamp mill and a restored gold miner's log cabin are just some of the items found here.
While the basis of the museum's collection is historical, the Stella Fay Miller Mezzanine Gallery features contemporary cultural displays by county artisans.
The museum's archival library houses its comprehensive collection of photographs, documents, records and literature, which is continually augmented to compile a permanent record of Plumas County people, places and activities. Its value as a research and resource center is immeasurable.
The museum bookstore sells local and regional historical books and publications, note cards, postcards, calendars, prints, and locally mined and fashioned gold nugget jewelry.
An additional attraction is the fully restored 1878 Variel Home behind the museum. Passing through American Valley in 1852 on the Beckwourth Emigrant Trail, Joshua and Mary Variel returned in 1878 to build the home. The home is owned by the Plumas County Museum Association and is open on weekends and by appointment in summer.
School and organizational group tours are always welcomed.
Plumas County History:
Prior to the California Gold Rush, the area now known as Plumas County was inhabited by the Native American Indians known as the Mountain Maidu. Living in small groups, they gathered roots, berries, grasses, seeds, and acorns, supplementing these staples with large and small game and fish. Their existence was suddenly disturbed in the spring of 1850 when a flood of gold seeking miners poured into the canyons and valleys of the region.
In search of a fabled “Gold Lake,” overnight, mining camps sprang to life. Rivers were turned from their beds, ditches were dug to bring water from distant sources to the diggings, and the land was turned upside down. A sizable Chinese population took up residence here and remained until the early 1900s, when, with the decline in mining, most left the area. The North, Middle and South forks of the Feather River, named in 1820 by Spanish explorer Captain Louis Arguello as the Rio de las Plumas, were the primary sites of early mining activity with many smaller camps located on their tributaries. Over the next five decades gold mining remained the main industry of the county.
In 1850, the famous African-American mountain man, James P. Beckwourth, discovered the lowest pass across the Sierra Nevada and the following year navigated a wagon trail for California bound emigrants from western Nevada, through Plumas County, to the Sacramento Valley. Several years later, in March of 1854, Plumas County was formed from the eastern and largest portion of Butte County with the town of Quincy chosen as the county seat after a heated election against rival Elizabethtown. In 1864, a large part of northern Plumas County was carved off to form present-day Lassen County. Following this, Plumas County annexed a small portion of Sierra County, which included the town of La Porte.
In the late 1850s, Greenville came into existence as a mining and farming community at the head of Indian Valley; Chester, near Lake Almanor, was born as a result of cattle and dairy ranching, the damming Big Meadows and the lumber potential from the timber stands blanketing the area. Soon after the turn of the century, and with the construction of the Western Pacific Railroad in 1910, Portola came into existence. With the railroad for transportation, the timber industry began to emerge as the primary economic force in the county. Until that time lumber was milled strictly for local use. Finished lumber could now be shipped nationwide from Plumas forests. The timber industry contributed enormously to the growth and prosperity of Plumas County and though curtailed greatly, it continues to do so to this day.
With the railroad's construction up the Feather River Canyon came some of the earliest tourists to the county. Resorts and lodges popped up at intervals along the "Feather River Route" to accommodate fishermen, hikers and sightseers. The last passenger train ran in 1970 and the line is now devoted to freight traffic only. In 1937, the Feather River Highway, touted as an "all weather route," was completed through the Feather River canyon from Oroville to Quincy, linking Plumas County year round to the Sacramento Valley.