The Angels Camp Museum will welcome its visitors this weekend to step back into the latter half of the 19th century and build a carriage wheel, set type on a hand press and witness weavers taking a spin on a 130-year-old loom.
The artisans’ exhibit will open to the public at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Mining and Ranching building. It features fully functional carpenter and print shops and a textile manufacturing area with original equipment dating back to the late 1800s.
“This is the first major new exhibit at this museum in quite some time,” said Museum Director Craig Hadley. “(The exhibits) allow us to tell the stories of the artisans and the craftsmen … who built Angels Camp from the Gold Rush to the beginning of the 20th century.”
Cash and in-kind service donations totaling $35,000 to the nonprofit Angels Camp Museum Foundation were contributed to create the exhibits.
The carpentry shop illustrates the trade of James Marshall, who discovered gold in 1848 on the American River in Coloma, spurring the Gold Rush.
Museum Education Coordinator Jim Miller, clad in period costume, gave a demonstration Thursday night in a sneak preview of the exhibits given for museum members and other dignitaries.
“The craft of the wheelwright was very important to keeping everybody rolling,” Miller said.
He showed how guests will be able to assemble one of the wooden wheels for the carriages that were the main mode of transport at the time.
Miller said the exhibit features tools used by the pioneering Rolleri family at the town of Melones, which was flooded in the 1980s when New Melones Reservoir was filled.
Museum Foundation Director Bob Petithomme demonstrated a hand press that took painstaking care and precious time to produce just a single page.
“Can you imagine printing a newspaper, 500 copies?” Petithomme asked a crowd of several dozen.
Petithomme showed greater familiarity with a 1903 Challenge-Gordon foot-powered jobbing press. He operated one just like it in his youth when father Luis founded and published the Calaveras Shopping News.
Jewell Wedegaertner, of Murphys, was less familiar with running the loom her grandmother Sarah Whittier had brought when she moved to California from Tennessee in 1883.
“My sister and I used to play on it when we were kids,” Wedegaertner said.
She never weaved anything on it, though, preferring to pretend it was something more akin to a carriage.
“We really thought we were going somewhere,” she said.
Her husband Vic did some work on the loom itself and later weaved some rugs, Wedegaertner said.
Whittier’s friend and neighbor in Tennessee built the loom and brought it by train to California for her shortly after she moved.
“It’s nice that they put it together so it can be demonstrated on,” Wedegaertner said. “It’s nice to see it workable again.”
Hadley said a five-year plan is in place to add similar interactive exhibits to upgrade the museum to a “21st century professional” level. A 19th century blacksmith shop is targeted for an opening by the end of the year outdoors next to the stamp mill. The Museum Foundation is working to raise $5,000 needed to complete the exhibit, Hadley said.