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Placer County’s most precious artifacts are on the move

Museums division relocates archives and collections into a new location in North Auburn
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Visit the Placer County Museum in Old Town Auburn and one of the highlights is the collection of Indian baskets and other artifacts donated by Auburn’s Berenice Pate.

But a peek into one of the most secure areas of the Placer County Museums archives and collections’ new quarters reveals the magnitude of the gift Pate bestowed on the people of Placer County in the 1990s.

Row upon row of basketry, arrows, weapons and other Native American treasures collected over more than a half century are now being stored in the roomier confines of the new collections area. The C Avenue location in North Auburn’s Placer County Government Center is providing better ways to store and preserve artifacts and archives that date back to the 1850s.

And Museums Administrator Melanie Barton said that it’s breathing new life into collections like Pate’s. Barton said she anticipates holding tours of the facility that could include viewings of the extent of Pate cultural treasure trove.

Pate started her collection in Modoc County and moved to Auburn in 1946. The Auburn District Fair asked her to display her collection soon afterward and before long, local Indians had contacted her for help. Pate’s advocacy work continued through the rest of her life. She was appointed in the 1960s to the California Indian Commission. Pate also was served on the Auburn City Council, including one term as mayor.

Barton said Wednesday that the move into newly renovated, temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms is a step up for the Museums Division in caring for the many pieces of Placer County history the county has collected itself since the 1940s.

“We feel extremely fortunate to be able to make this move because we had outgrown our previous space,” Barton said. “The new building allows us to combine our archives and collections into one building. We’re much better able to preserve and protect all these wonderful items, including the baskets and Native American artifacts collected by Berenice Pate.”

On Wednesday, movers were continuing the work of transferring the county’s sizeable cache of historic documents and objects from two buildings elsewhere in the North Auburn complex to 11526 C Ave. The building formerly was occupied by a restaurant and county dental clinic. It’s part of the DeWitt Hospital complex that was built in the waning days of World War II.

Volunteer Carmel Barry-Schweyer was assisting at the old archives building on D Avenue and said she was enthused with the move.

“It’s very exciting,” Barry-Schweyer said. “We’ll have high-density shelving, better security and climate controls, and, obviously, more room.”

The high-density shelving, which expands and contracts, accordion style, will be particularly helpful in allowing collections, like Pate’s, to rest in one place, she said.

“It’s like going from a shed to a mansion,” Barry-Schweyer said.

The moving part of the relocation is expected to be completed by Monday and volunteers will then help place the volumes of county records, newspapers and other documents while others arrange artifacts. Barton said plans are to re-open to the public Dec. 17.