The McHenry Museum (the building) has a history going back to 1912. In 1906 Oramil McHenry* died and his will left $20,000 and interest in three city lots for the expressed purpose of constructing a public library in Modesto. The city was unwilling to begin the library facility until the probate of Mr. McHenry's will was complete. By 1911 all the pieces began to fall into place. The probate was complete and the city indeed would receive the monies from the McHenry estate.
In July of 1911 the city opened bids for the new building and Robert Trost of San Francisco was low bidder. W. H. Weeks was chosen as the architect and his plans for the library were published in the “Modesto Morning Herald” on August 3, 1911. Construction began in January of 1912 and continued until completion in April 1912. The City of Modesto formally took possession of the building and opened it's doors to select visitors on April 29, 1912. The official opening of the McHenry Library to the general public was on May 1, 1912.**
The McHenry Library continued to serve the citizens of Modesto until 1971 when a new library building became available one block north leaving the McHenry Library just another vacant building. A vacant building with a vibrant history that needed to be preserved forever! Individuals and organization had anticipated the need for a museum and art center and were making plans for such a facility.
A Citizen's Cultural Center Committee was formed in 1965 to raise funds for a Museum and Art Center. By 1971 contributions from individuals, organizations and foundations had progressed to the point where the City of Modesto felt sure enough of the ultimate success of the project to convert the vacated library building into a Museum and Art Center. The committee's first step was to carefully restore the building to its original beauty. The Central California Art League occupied four rooms in the basement and developed galleries to display local artists work. The main floor was developed into the McHenry Museum. One room became the changing exhibit room, another to display historic paintings, and the third was devoted to “permanent” displays. The displays were vignettes of vintage rooms such as a kitchen, living room, blacksmith's shop, etc. The auditorium was also part of the museum and was used for a variety of events from musical presentations to city council meetings.
The museum continued in that configuration until 2003 when the Art League moved to new quarters and the museum was able to utilize the entirety of the building. That also meant that much remodeling had to be done in the basement to transform it from an art gallery to a museum. A fund raising campaign by the McHenry Museum & Historical Society provided funds to transform the art galleries into museum vignettes. The use of the new space required a complete reorganization of both the main floor and basement spaces.
The museum property is owned by the City of Modesto and is under the direct supervision of the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department Cultural Services Manager, Wayne Mathes.
*Click here for more information on the McHenry family.
** "From Reading Room to Public Library, the Evolution of the Library Spirit in Modesto, 1892-1912” by Heather Hajek, Stanislaus Stepping Stones. Vol. 27, No. 4, pages 1365-1373.