History of HAHS
December 2006 marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Hayward Area Historical Society. On an autumn night in 1956, twenty-five Hayward area citizens met at Bret Harte School to discuss a growing concern in the community. Amidst the progress and prosperity of the post-World War II boom, the history of the area once known as Eden Township seemed to be missing from the cultural landscape. The [Hayward] Chamber of Commerce Postwar Planning Committee first recommended the formation of a historical society in 1944. With so much happening at the conclusion of World War II and the community experiencing unprecedented growth in the following years, no action was taken on the committee’s suggestion. However, ten years later, the City of Hayward celebrated its eightieth birthday with great fanfare. The Hayward City Council, Chamber of Commerce, residents and businesses planned several celebrations throughout the year, each complete with vintage costumes, promotions, and displays. Though the festivities were considered a success, the planners had encountered a huge problem — identifying pioneer residents to ride in the anniversary parade. There was no established resource for gathering and providing information on Hayward’s past.
The Community Services Committee of the Hayward Chamber of Commerce, chaired by Allen F. Strutz, decided to take matters into their own hands and took steps to begin saving Hayward’s history and soon, the Hayward Area Historical Society (HAHS) was born. The first official election of officers was scheduled for the night of December 6, 1956. Volunteers immediately began gathering members and asking pioneer families to fill out historical questionnaires. Those documents became the foundation for HAHS’ extensive archives. By December 1956 over 150 people had joined. The first officers were Manuel Furtado, president; Allen Struz, vice-president; Irene Plant, treasurer; Katherine Borneman, secretary; and Harry Bradford, curator. The ever-burgeoning group would push the deadline for charter-member-enrollment back at least five more times due to the skyrocketing community interest. The roll was finally closed on February 28, 1957, with 340 official, and nine memorial charter memberships.
During the ceremony to sign the Society’s charter, which took place at the historic Eden Congregational Church, the society proclaimed its intent to “discover, preserve, and disseminate knowledge of the history of the Hayward Area.” During the first year of the Historical Society’s life, it received its tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization. Some of the group’s first actions were to refurbish and preserve a portrait of Don Guillermo Castro painted in 1852, honor the grave of William Hayward on Memorial Day, organize the first clean-up of the San Lorenzo Pioneer Cemetery, and secure a fire proof safe to store historic documents they intended to collect.
Soon, the first artifacts began to be donated. The very first artifacts were a pencil drawing of Mission Dolores and a copy of the Hayward Journal from 1894. For many years, the Society and its artifacts had a home in the Hayward Chamber of Commerce office on B Street. Early board members frequently spoke of their loftiest dream, “that a museum [could] be built someday in which the artifacts of regional progress [could] be collected, itemized, and displayed.”
The Historical Society’s first official headquarters, loaned to them by the City of Hayward, was in a small room at historic City Hall on Mission Boulevard. There, they staged their first display, exhibiting pictures of former mayors. The Society continued to grow, and by 1965, HAHS was bursting at the seams. The City, also needing more space in City Hall, provided another office for HAHS in the old Hayward Post Office, often called the Eggert Building, on the corner of C and Main Streets. Between 1965 and 1978, the Historical Society would slowly expand within the Eggert Building, creating exhibits and collecting more artifacts. Finally, in 1977, the City of Hayward purchased the building to be used as a museum, and HAHS signed a 20-year lease at $1 per year. Twenty-two years after it was founded, the members and directors of HAHS achieved their dream of attaining a real museum space.
HAHS reached a number of benchmarks in growth and prosperity during the 1960s and 1970s. Among them were the creation of the Adobe Trails member newsletter in 1965 and the additions of Beulah Linnell and Zelda Riggs as Curator and Hostess, respectively, that same year. The society published its first book in 1970, The History of Hayward by Ms. McDow’s Student Authors at Sunset High School. Hayward… The First Hundred Years was published in 1976, written by members and friends of the Historical Society named the Eden Writers. In 1972, Minnie Christensen took the reins from Zelda Riggs as Museum Hostess; just one year after the Society had hit the 400-member mark.
In 1973, the Hayward Area Recreational District (HARD) purchased the McConaghy House on Hesperian Boulevard in Hayward and entered into an agreement with HAHS to restore the house. McConaghy House was spared from decay and demolition through the efforts of concerned citizens led by Lois Over, Esther Jorgensen, and Lucille Lorge. Between 1973 and 1975, the McConaghy House was lovingly restored through the hard work and time of local volunteers. It was finally opened to the public as a dynamic new wing of the Historical Society Museum in 1976. HARD and HAHS also signed an agreement to restore the Meek Mansion, another historic property owned by HARD. The effort to restore the estate to its former grandeur continues today with the intention of opening the home to visitors in the future.
The 1980s and 1990s marked another significant period for the Historical Society. In the early 1980s, the museum’s research library and archive were renovated and the Corner Store opened for business. In 1986, Lois Over became the Assistant Director to the museum, joining Eugene Hirtle, the museum’s Curator. In 1993, Alden Oliver — a charter member of the Society and a member of one of Hayward area’s earliest salt-manufacturing families — bequeathed a large portion of land to the Society and the Eden United Church. The bequest opened many doors for HAHS. The Board of Directors made the decision to be very careful with the bequest and establish an endowment for the HAHS. For the first time in its history finding money to operate the museum, support exhibits, and provide educational programs would no longer be an overwhelming concern.
Beginning in 1997, the City of Hayward began a year-long renovation on the Eggert Building to take care of much-needed repairs to the roof and to retrofit the structure for earthquake safety. For the period of one year, HAHS had to relocate to another space in downtown Hayward. At this same time, the Historical Society’s 20-year lease on the Eggert Building expired and the group began to pay the city a monthly rent. Moving back into the museum building in 1998 began yet another new chapter in HAHS history. That same year, Curator Gene Hirtle resigned from his position and Lois Over retired. Pearl Arhontes took over as Office Manager and kept things going with the continued assistance of numerous museum volunteers. Shortly, the Board of Directors began a nationwide search to hire the society’s first professional Executive Director. On February 1, 1999, Jim DeMersman, former director of the Hi-Desert Museum in Southern California, accepted the position and began moving HAHS to the level of professionalism that it is today.
In the first few years after the passing of the millennium, HAHS would host its first Preservation Gala and Awards, as well as its first-ever traveling exhibit. Also during this period, HAHS received its first payments from the Oliver Trust, allowing the museum to hire a full-time staff of experts in the educational, collections, archival, and curatorial fields. In recent years, the museum has experienced more change and growth than ever before. Arcadia Publishing has printed three books in its Images of America series for the Historical Society and its authors: Early Hayward, Castro Valley, and San Lorenzo. The Society’s collections and research library contain thousands of artifacts and documents from an increasingly diverse range of sources. Exhibits like That 70s Exhibit and The Great Shake of ’68 mark the beginning of a new era in the museum’s self-produced exhibitions, utilizing professional design and fabrication techniques and seeking out new audiences. Even the Corner Store is keeping up with the times — carrying merchandise related to each new exhibit and offering a broad range of new products. This is truly the most exciting period in the Hayward Area Historical Society’s lifetime to-date.