Visiting Stanley Ranch Museum in Garden Grove

Having grown up in Orange County I’m always amazed when I discover places that have been around my whole life. How did I completely miss their existence? One such place is Stanley Ranch in Garden Grove. Now, I must admit I had passed by it in the past and thought “that’s an interesting historic home” but I’d never bothered to research just what it was. It turns out Stanley Ranch is a true treasure in the heart of Orange County.

The official name is Stanley Ranch Museum & Historical Village because the site consists of over 17 historic structures. It’s cared for by the Garden Grove Historical Society and open to visitors at 1:30pm the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month. Once I learned just what the site was it took me a good year to finally visit because I kept missing the dates it was open. Last week the stars finally aligned and my mom, sister and I stopped by to check it out.

We were led on a guided tour by a friendly volunteer who provided detailed knowledge on the historic site. Our first stop was the Ware-Stanley House which dates to 1891 and belonged to one of the pioneering families of the county. Edward Ware , the proprietor, was a leading horticulturist who c0-developed the Eureka Walnut.

The house remained in the family until 1971 when it was donated to the historical society. Because of this it’s in wonderful condition and filled with many of its original furnishings. The tour led us through the entire home and we were all really impressed with it’s beauty.

Also, on the site are several other historic structures ranging from commercial properties to former residences. Most are open to tour while a few are exterior view only.

The Electric Shoe Shop and Barber Shop initially existed on Main Street and alternately contained both businesses during its existence. When it was threatened with demolition it was moved to the site and lovingly restored.

Inside it contains several historic artifacts relating to its former trades. Having never previously visited a historic shoe shop I was enthralled by the artifacts. I am continually fascinated by historic equipment and its superior quality. These items were clearly built to last and in our current disposable environment that’s a true rarity.

Also onsite is the Garden Grove Post Office built in the 1880’s. Like the barber shop it was relocated to this site in order to preserve it and is also in wonderful condition.

Inside is an exhibit of historic postal artifacts and I’d be hard pressed to decide whether I loved this is or the shoe repair shop more. As I visit more and more historic structures I’ve begun to realize that I have a special fondness for the commercial ones. I think it’s because it allows me a glimpse into the day to day lives of those in the past.

The Garden Grove Lumber & Cement Co was, unfortunately, not open to explore but I loved the exterior of the 1905 structure.

To own a Craftsman cottage is my dream so I was excited we were able to tour the Schnitger House built in 1916. It served as a ranch home for the Schnitger family who once grew orange, walnuts and avocados. Inside are several displays devoted to Garden Grove history but much of the original interior remains.

The final stop on the tour is the only piece not connected with Garden Grove history – the Disney Garage.

In 1923 Walt Disney used his Uncle Robert’s garage as his first animation studio. Here he developed some of his earliest work. In 1984 the garage was slated for demolition and a group called “The Friends of Walt Disney” purchased it in order to preserve it. They offered it to Disney who had no interest in saving it and were left wondering where to place the historic structure. They the offered it to the Garden Grove Historical Society who were happy to accept and to this day it remains a beloved structure on the site.

The interior is filled with Disney memorabilia including this Disney World pin commemorating the garage.

I thought it was pretty funny that they were happy to make a pin of the garage but had no interest in preserving the actual structure. Luckily, others did and it’s now available to the public.

Stanley Ranch is a truly fascinating place. I can’t believe it’s been right under my nose for much of my life and it took me this long to visit. I’m so happy I finally did and now have a better understanding of Southern California history.


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