Susan Uptain, who’s a Porterville Historical Museum Board Member, as well as Jay Faure, were discussing the Porterville Library and firefighters exhibit and history, and what they could further do to enhance it while the museum is closed until Thursday, April 2, subject to the COVID-19 guidelines until further notice.

When the museum reopens, Uptain said, “I believe we have a wonderful display of the history of the Porterville Library and a tribute to our firefighters.”

When putting the exhibit together Uptain, who’s also on the Library and Literacy Commission, said she had all of her artifacts, photographs, and paperwork stored at the library, because the large annual train exhibit was still up at the museum when the library burned on February 18.

“So the exhibit had to change with the history of the library.”

The first librarian was Gladys McDonald, and there’s a picture of her in the small case that holds the memorabilia for the Inter Se Club. The Inter Se reading room was formed by Mrs. Murray, and the other ladies of the club in 1891, and were responsible for writing the grant that had the Carnegie Library built in Porterville in 1905.

In the second case there are wonderful photographs of the Carnegie Library, when it was newly built with no palm trees in front, and then a photograph, probably taken in the 1930’s or 40’s with grown Palm trees. In the case there’s history written about Porterville’s fourth Librarian, Susan Louise Templeton, recalled by her relative Grant Templeton Dritzler, in February, 2020, in San Francisco. He remembers always calling her “Aunt Louise.” Besides the photographs, there’s a large photograph of Ina Stiner as a young woman. Stiner wrote extensive histories of Tulare County, interviewed the pioneering families of Porterville and Tulare County and had documented them all, in historical detail, with photographs which were all in the historical section in the Porterville Library when it burned. All priceless and irreplaceable.

Besides the photos, there are books from the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, as well as elegant white ladies gloves, eyeglasses, and a hand painted china tea cup. There’s also a 1890 - 1892 Smith Premier typewriter that still works. There are also a few vintage geography books.

The original Carnegie Library was badly damaged in an earthquake, and was torn down in 1949, because it had a large crack up the side of the building. All of the library books were moved to the basement of Porterville City Hall, until the new Porterville Public Library was built in 1953.

In January 1974, Wilko Mentz, who was the first mayor of Porterville, donated the land where his house stood, so the library could be enlarged. That was when the second story was built onto the library. There are great historic photos of the library with one story.

It stood unblemished, for 67 years, until it burned down on February 18, 2020.

“The new library will be built when there can be a meeting to discuss it,” said Uptain. “When the City Council and all other meetings can resume, after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.”

A photograph of the Carnegie Library is in the same case as the bronze memorial plaque to Wilko Mentz that was mounted on the wall of the Porterville Public Library, along with the large metal art deco or streamline modern letters “Porterville Public Library,” which were saved after the fire.

The bronze plaque rededicating the library in 1975 after the second story was built when Joseph Faure was Porterville’s mayor, was also salvaged, as well as two pieces of the mineral collection.

In one of the cases there’s a list of all the Porterville Librarians through the years. There’s also a case with children’s sized wooden chairs from the 1953 library, with children’s books and antique dolls. 

After the fire certain things were found in the library, and amazingly some of the microfiche film survived. Library staff members Donna Silvas and Sandi Farnsworth, painstakingly unrolled, cleaned, and rerolled the sensitive films. They even have one of the original boxes as well as the metal microfiche canisters in the exhibit. You can see some of the singed and burned books, as well as burned photos that were left of the 77,000 books that were in the library.

Jay and John McWilliams, Museum archivist, and other board members helped put together the collection of original Porterville Fire Department photographs and other memorabilia from the late 1890’s until the late 1940’s. 

There’s a fantastic display of fire department badges and a beautifully intact fire department uniform from the 1920’s. There’s also a fire department horn awarded during an Independence Day competition between the Bakersfield Fire Department and the Porterville Fire Department in 1907.

Both of the exhibits are priceless, and they’re a memorial in honor of Porterville Fire Captain Ramon “Ray” Figueroa and Porterville Firefighter Patrick Jones who lost their lives in the fire on February 18, 2020.

Uptain and Faure would like to acknowledge all of the people who helped organize, and made contributions to the exhibits. They thanked Doris Hosfeld, John McWilliams, and all the others who helped.

“A huge thank you to Porterville City Librarian Vikki Cervantes for all her help,” said Uptain.

“Also a  thank you from the bottom of my heart to Dorothy Wagey who made a donation to sponsor the library exhibit,” Uptain said.

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