The Mill: Ag Museum to celebrate Sunday opening with free admission

September 23, 2011
Santa Paula News

If there really is a ribbon cut Sunday to celebrate the opening of the latest Santa Paula based museum, hopefully it will be by an antique pair of hand shears that will be carefully returned to an exhibit at the Agricultural Museum.

A satellite of the Museum of Ventura County, the new facility - housed in the historic Mill - will open to the public Sunday, September 25 at 11 a.m. Located in Railroad Plaza Park on Railroad Avenue, admission to the Agricultural Museum will be free on opening day. Docent led tours and live music by the Lynn Mullins Pickup Band will be enjoyed until 5 p.m.

The opening will make official the renovation of the Mill, built in 1887 by the Southern Pacific Milling Company as a produce warehouse. Over the decades the structure morphed into first a feed and supply store and lastly an eclectic mercantile as operated by the Hengehold family for about 50 years before the business was closed.

Owned by the Ventura County Transportation Commission, the building was leased to the museum for $1 a year after it underwent a $2.5 million renovation. The museum found it had to reinforce the floors of the massive structure to hold its heavy farm equipment collection, and then waited out the construction of the Santa Paula Branch Line Recreational Trail, which provided a dry creek courtyard out front.

The museum’s opening is the result of years of effort by a group of boosters determined to find a home for farm implements, agricultural artifacts, photographs and historical information that has been collected with just such a facility in mind.

According to Susan Gerrard, museum marketing director, the museum has eight vintage tractors, dating from 1914 to 1955, throughout the building, including one upon which children can sit for photo opportunities. “The machines are part of a rotating display of the museum’s nationally recognized collection of farm implements,” said Gerrard. 

Permanent exhibits using rare historical photographs and interactive elements tell the story of Ventura County’s farming and ranching tradition. Starting with Mission times, Gerrard said museum visitors will be able to trace the county’s “evolution into one of the nation’s most productive growing regions, and learn what innovations are in store for an industry that presently employs more than 30,000 county residents.”

Not only did area families support the museum with donations of funding, memorabilia, journals and equipment; locals - some with strong farming ties - are also staffing the new museum, including Agriculture Director Nate Pidduck and Consulting Curator Anne Graumlich.

More than 30 years ago the late Bob Pfeiler founded a committee of mostly growers who shared an interest in preserving equipment - the museum now has more than 900 farm implements alone in its collection - and other items related to farming, with the goal of eventually having a museum.

And that means a facility that appeals to all: “Initially, as a woman I thought ‘oh tractors, how interested am I in tractors?’ But,” said Graumlich, “when it turns out you have the oldest tractors and the oldest horse drawn farming equipment I was surprised at how interested I got!”

And, “I’ve tried to tell a story from a people point of view of what a great improvement” horsepower was over horses, even if the actual tool remained the same. “What are really interesting are the implements” used by tractors and horses alike, including those that were actually invented in Ventura County for the area’s particular crops.

“Some were really unique to the time,” including the Somis-area developed Cyclone, which Graumlich said was used for harvesting cover crop and removing weeds alike. “The implement did such a good job they’d say, ‘Wow, looks like a cyclone went through this field!’ Such stories I find fascinating.”

And Graumlich finds the photos, a collection of “at least” 60,000 images starting in the 1890s, some of which are displayed with more contemporary and colorful panoramic works by Ventura’s Dan Holmes. “By mixing the historical and contemporary it adds a lot of life and color to the museum... shows Ventura County agriculture is still very busy,” and ultimately what is different actually remains the same.

After Sunday’s grand opening the museum is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with admission $4 adults, $3 seniors, $1 children 6-17, and children under 6 free. Membership in the Museum of Ventura County includes free admission to both their Agriculture Museum and the Museum of Ventura County’s primary location at 100 East Main Street in Ventura. For more information, go to

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