Students take history by the hand with Solana Beach Living History program

The Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society recently turned back the clock, bringing history to life for local students. From doing household chores to playing traditional games, Solana Vista Elementary School third-graders learned what it was like to live in the early 1900s during the society’s Living History program.

“Kids learn by doing,” said Jenell Strickland, a third-grade teacher at Solana Vista. “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.”

Every year, Solana Beach third-graders visit the Solana Beach Heritage Museum at 715 Valley Ave. to tour the community’s first home, which sat for 101 years on Pepper Tree Lane, now called Del Mar Downs Road.

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

“We’re hoping to spark an interest in history and especially in local history,” said Nelson, who said the museum houses more than 400 antiques.

During the program, Nelson and other volunteer docents dress in period attire, inviting the students to pretend they are spending a week at the 10-acre Molly Glen Ranch, which used to be on the south slopes of Solana Beach in the late 1800s.

Nelson plays the role of Sen. James West Stevens, who once inhabited 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 vacuuming. The kids later visit the kitchen, where Stevens’ wife, Susanna, demonstrates another two dozen chores.

“They really love the whole concept of going back in time,” Strickland said. “It’s such a novel experience for them. They not only get to see the antiques, but they get to touch them, use them and pretend with them. Third-graders still love to pretend.”

After touring both rooms, the students head outside to play traditional games such as croquet, hopscotch, jump rope and sack races. After playtime, the kids return to the museum, where time has fast-forwarded to 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, wall phones and more. Before the end of the field trip, students help make homemade ice cream.

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

Launched a decade ago, the Living History program has served as many as 21 third-grade classes throughout the Solana Beach School District per year. With only 14 volunteers but seven docents needed for each field trip, this year’s program was offered only to Solana Vista’s third-graders.

The Solana Beach Heritage Museum is open to the public 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.

“It’s Solana Beach’s best-kept secret,” Nelson said.

For information about the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society, the Solana Beach Heritage Museum and the Living History program, visit

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