Students learn local history at Solana Beach Heritage Museum


The Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society recently brought history to life for local students. Students from Skyline and Solana Vista elementary schools learned what it was like to live in the early 1900s during the society’s Living History program.

“This is a great way to teach local history,” said Rose Andrews, a retired teacher from the Solana Beach School District, who brought the very first class to the program. She’s now a dedicated volunteer. “It’s very hands-on.”

Through the program, Solana Vista third-graders visit the Solana Beach Heritage Museum every year through the program. Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students in Skyline’s Global Education program also visit the museum every three years.

Built in 1887, the museum is the first home constructed in the community. It sat on Pepper Tree Lane, now called Del Mar Downs Road, for 101 years. In 1990, the house was moved to La Colonia Park in Solana Beach, where it is owned by the city and operated as a museum by the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society.

Solana Beach historian Jim Nelson and his wife, Kathalyn, oversee the educational program, which covers the community’s history, starting from when Native Americans inhabited the region.

“Kids learn by doing,” Jenell Strickland, a third-grade teacher at Solana Vista said while visiting the museum with her students last year. “Having the opportunity to come here and live it not only brings the content to life, but leaves a bigger impression. They’ll be able to retain the information better because they got to experience it firsthand instead of just reading it in a book.”

This year, Strickland brought a new group of third-graders to the museum, along with student teacher Alan Ryan. Her class was the last crop of students to participate this fall.

“This is wonderful,” said Ryan, an Encinitas resident who will complete a teaching credential program at Cal State San Marcos this spring. “It’s very engaging for the kids.”

During the nearly 2 1/2-hour program, Nelson and other volunteer docents dress in period costumes, inviting students to imagine they are spending a week at the 10-acre Molly Glen Ranch.

Nelson plays the role of Sen. James West Stevens, who lived in the original house, and shows the students around the 1900s-style parlor. Stevens teaches the children how to perform chores such as filling kerosene lamps and sweeping the floor. The students then visit the 1900s-style kitchen, where Stevens’ wife, Susanna, shows them additional household chores that were part of routine life.

After touring both rooms and learning about 40 chores, students go outside to play traditional games such as croquet and hopscotch. They then return to the museum, where it is now the 1930s, when Edwin and Jennie Stevens lived in the house.

With the construction of Lake Hodges, students learn how the impact of running water helped transform Lockwood Mesa to today’s Solana Beach. They discover how chores changed and tour a more modern 1930s kitchen and living room, which feature a sink with faucets, refrigerator, gas stove, washing machine with spin dryer, wall phones and more. Students help make homemade ice cream before the end of the field trip.

“Everything is hands-on, so the kids can touch anything they want,” Nelson said. “We try to make everything come alive.”

After crafting the curriculum, the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society launched the Living History program in 2005. At one time, the program served every third-grade class in the Solana Beach School District.

The program is entirely run by volunteers. The society also covers the cost of the school buses with a grant from an educational foundation.

This year, six Solana Vista classes and two Skyline classes participated in the program. There are 15 volunteers, with four soon to retire. Therefore, the program is in jeopardy of continuing next fall.

“There’s a lot of learning going on,” said Solana Beach resident Phyllis Schwartzlose. She has volunteered with the program for a decade. “I’d hate to see this disappear.”

The society is recruiting volunteers for the program. Anyone interested in supporting the program is asked to contact Nelson at

“We very much need volunteers,” Nelson said. “I have been looking for two years to try to get some replacements.”

The Solana Beach Heritage Museum is open from 1-4 p.m. every first and third Saturday. Groups can also make appointments to tour the museum by calling the Nelsons at 858-259-7657.