The keeper of all things historical in Danville is the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, located in the restored Southern Pacific Railroad depot at the corner of Railroad and Prospect avenues in downtown Danville.
Residents devoted to preserving the area’s history incorporated the museum as a nonprofit organization in 1985. The group lovingly restored the depot in the mid-1990s, moving it 600 feet north from its original 1891 location to where it sits today. The building is owned by the museum, and sits on land leased for a small annual sum from the Town of Danville. It houses a permanent collection of artifacts and photos from the valley’s rich history, but it also hosts rotating displays, and welcomes many informative speakers. There’s also a museum store and library.
The depot itself was one of four two-story depots built by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1891 in Concord, Walnut Creek, Danville and San Ramon. The same design was used, and they were all painted the same “faded dandelion gold”, trimmed in brown. Only the Danville depot remains intact of the original four. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Danville Heritage Resource building.
In addition to exhibits inside the museum, docents are available for walking tours either by appointment, or on designated days. Tours include a one-hour walk of Old Town Danville, a trek through the Alamo Cemetery, and a visit to the 1889 Tassajara Grammar School, east of the town.
The tour of Old Town Danville teaches visitors about the people who lived in the town, the origins of street names, among other interesting facts. From May to October the Old Town Danville Walking Tour is available without appointments at 10 a.m. on the second Saturday of each month. There’s a special tour available by request highlighting the years Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill lived in Danville, 1937-1944.
The museum is strongly dedicated to educating children, which is why every fall and spring it plays host to local school children for special educational programs. In October and November fourth graders learn about the valley’s earliest residents, the Bay Miwok and Ohlone Native Americans. Using artifacts from prehistoric times, along with interactive activities, the children learn what life was like for the tribes for 5,000 years before the Spaniards arrived.
In the spring third graders are treated to a look back to one-room schoolhouse life at the Tassajara Grammar School, 1650 Finley Road. Children dress in period garb and spend a day just as a student would have spent in 1888. School marms and masters lead the students in authentic lessons from the time. They also eat typical lunches and play the same games enjoyed in those days.
The museum is open 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays to Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Saturdays. There is a small entrance fee; check with the museum. Entry is free with a one-year membership. Members enjoy a 10 percent discount on most purchases from the museum store.