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FOR THE KIDS : STAGECOACH INN MUSEUM : History in Hand : Children who tour the Stagecoach Inn may find themselves baking biscuits or hauling wood.

November 01, 1990|JANE HULSE

For stagecoach travelers 100 years ago, there were certain rules of the road--some to ensure a safe journey and others to preserve a delicate accord among passengers.

Always spit on the leeward side of the coach, gentlemen were advised. Don't swear or smoke a strong pipe. Never discuss politics or religion. Avoid dozing on your neighbor's shoulder. Don't grease the hair--it attracts dust. And if the team bolts, don't jump out of the coach.

The travel tips are posted in the carriage house at the Stagecoach Inn Museum complex in Newbury Park. The original inn was a stop for the Butterfield Stage when it carried passengers through the Conejo Valley from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the late 1800s.

The two-story inn with its wrap-around porch and balcony is now a museum operated by volunteers from the Conejo Valley Historical Society. But there is more to see than the grand old Victorian hostelry, advertised by its builder as a health resort with a "first-rate table."

Historians have re-created several pockets of California history on the five-acre museum grounds. And children can get a hands-on feel of life in more spartan times.

They can gather inside a Chumash hut that would have housed 30 Indians thousands of years ago in Ventura County. In the shade of a 300-year-old sycamore tree, they can pound acorns on a rock and imagine what it was like to live on a steady diet of the nuts.

They can see a little adobe house, similar to those used by Mexicans who settled in early California. They can walk through a replica of a simple three-room house built in 1874 by Egbert Starr Newbury, the area's first postmaster. They can watch a real blacksmith working in his shop and see a replica of a stagecoach.

According to Beverly Viola, acting director of the museum, when schoolchildren tour the museum complex, they find out firsthand that pioneers had little time for lazing about. Chores are assigned by sex in the manner common 100 years ago.

The girls are put to work scrubbing clothes in a laundry tub, baking biscuits and beating mattresses. Boys haul firewood and water, pan for gold and polish leather with saddle soap.

But inside the Stagecoach Inn, children see a more comfortable side of earlier times. With its lace curtains, wallpaper and Victorian furnishings, the inn is elegant.

"It never looked this good," said Viola on a tour of the building. "It's very gussied up."

In fact, the inn has been completely rebuilt. Constructed in 1876 as the Grand Union Hotel, it was put to other uses over the years--post office, tea room, boys military school, restaurant and gift shop. In 1930 a cowboy movie starring Hoot Gibson was filmed there.

In 1966, with the construction of the Ventura Freeway, the hotel was moved to its present location near the freeway and South Ventu Park Road, and opened as a museum. A fire in 1970 burned it to the ground, but it was rebuilt as it originally appeared and opened again as a museum in 1976.

In its heyday, the inn had 14 to 16 small guest rooms upstairs. Now there are 10, each decorated in a different motif.

A baby's room has an antique iron crib with Victorian dolls and an original teddy bear. In another bedroom an 1860 black gown with French lace is fitted over a stand. The sewing room features an old treadle sewing machine next to a Victorian wedding gown in the making. In a boy's bedroom is the spool bed that Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, used as a child.

The antique doll collection is a favorite spot for children. But they probably are more impressed by another bedroom, that of Pierre, the inn's so-called resident ghost. Legend has it that a Basque sheepherder named Pierre was murdered at the inn, and a psychic claimed some 20 years ago that she still felt his presence. A saddle and chaps, like those Pierre might have used, rest on a chair.

Other sights include a library, a room full of Chumash artifacts, and a collection of antique tools. But there's one more prized artifact that children are likely to remember best. An old stagecoach door, retrieved from the Santa Monica Mountains, hangs on the wall. Historians have a hunch the hole in the door came from a bullet.


The Stagecoach Inn Museum Complex is at 51 S. Ventu Park Road, Newbury Park. The inn is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. The entire complex is open Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 498-9441.

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