29 Palms Museum: Old Schoolhouse Style

Twentynine Palms Museum is housed in the oldest public building still in use in the Morongo Basin and provides visitors a chance to experience a 1920s era schoolroom.

Townsfolk moved the city’s unique 1927 one-room school building to National Park Drive and redesigned the building to wind up as the Old Schoolhouse Museum. The Campbell Family donated 5 acres of their homestead for the school and $300 was raised for materials and construction.

The “moving event” on April 4, 1992, was recorded by Huell Howser of public television’s KCET-TV for his program “California’s Gold.” Accompanied by the High School marching band playing “California Here I Come,” an entourage of local residents escorted the moving schoolhouse to its new location on National Park Drive across from the historic Twentynine Palms Inn.

In fact, Huell Howser loved 29 Palms so much he actually lived there. Although originally born in Tennessee, it was evident the desert had won its rightful place in Huell’s heart. Huell was a 29 Palms denizen and lover of wide, big-sky vistas, which the city is blessed with.

Huell Howser with Ada Hatch and Larry Bowden. Video capture courtesy of KCET.

Episode 504 focused on the museum’s 55th annual weed show in 1997, which remains a much-loved annual event. Episode 502 featured 29 Palms famous murals. The beloved travelogue host passed away in January 2013 at age 67. His 12 acre Joshua Tree National Park-adjacent home sold for $650,000 in cash after about 130 came to an open house, which was $250,000 over its original asking price.

Nearly three months after the “move” on June 28, 1992 at 4:57 a.m. the great Landers earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.3 roared through the basin. After the severe shaking stopped and daylight appeared, a board member made a frantic phone call to Faye Bouldin, who lived within one-quarter mile of the schoolhouse. Faye reassured her the schoolhouse was still intact.

A bell summoned students to the schoolhouse.

Knowledgeable, friendly docents showed us the classroom with enthusiasm.
The museum held interesting displays everywhere you looked. The docents were so sweet.

Almost a thousand students visit the museum annually as participants in class tours designed to help fulfill California history-social science standards.

The Society’s library offers a collection of books and other historic resource materials, which are available to researchers.

It also has most of The Desert Trail newspapers dating from 1935 and all issues of the original Desert Magazine plus an index. The library is open to researchers on Wednesday mornings from 9:00 am to noon and can be made available at other times by prior appointment.

The Society and the Desert Institute have co-sponsored the “Old School House Lecture Series” since 1999. These lectures, presented on the second Friday of each month, September through June, offer information from experts about the local history, culture, natural science, and arts in the Morongo Basin area for just $5 dollars at the door.

The 29 Palm Historical Society is partnering with the City of Twentynine Palms on the Oasis Storytelling Project. Two new sculptures will be placed on National Park Drive honoring: 1) our Pioneer Women and 2) the Native people who knew the Oasis of Mara as their homeland for thousands of years. The Pioneer Women sculpture will be adjacent to the museum on National Park Drive.

Have you ever seen those abandoned shacks peppering the landscape in Wonder Valley? In the mid-century, they were once homes full of hope. The Small Tract Act (STA) authorized the lease of up to five acres of public land for use as a home or business. If the applicant made the necessary improvements to his or her claim by constructing a small dwelling within three years of the lease, the applicant could file for a patent–the federal government’s form of a deed–after purchasing the parcel for the appraised price (average $10 to $20 an acre) at the regional land office.

Jackrabbit homesteads are only for folks who have a bit of pioneering blood in their veins. The land generally is rough, no water is immediately available, more or less road building has to be done. But fortunately there are many Americans who find infinite pleasure in doing the hard work necessary to provide living accommodations on one of these sites—and cabins are springing up all over the desert country. ~Desert Magazine, 1950

Passage of the Small Tract Act has opened vast areas of land, not for profit or exploitation, but for folks who like to build with their own hands, and who are thrilled by the challenge of creating a home of their own…These homesteads are for people who delight in watching the moon rise over purpled hills, for those who would call the stars by name, and who love the peace that is found only in remote places. ~Desert Magazine, 1954

The exhibition hall offers an assortment of showcases, extraordinary accumulations, authentic get-togethers and occasions, and instructive exercises including addresses, field trips, and a quarterly pamphlet.

Pioneers of the American West put silver and copper coins in drinking water to keep it fresh and prevent algae. Wet burlap was wrapped around clay urns to keep the water cool in hot weather.

The Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians is a federally recognized Native American tribe located in Southern California.  They are descendants of the Chemehuevi people, a peaceful and nomadic Tribe whose territory once covered parts of California, Utah, Arizona, and Southern Nevada.  The Twenty-Nine Palms Band settled at the sacred site known as the Oasis of Mara, located near the town of Twentynine Palms, California.  With the European occupation of the West, many Tribal members were relocated to the Coachella Valley and Banning Pass areas. 

The Twenty-Nine Palms Reservation was established by the Executive Order of 1895 in Twentynine Palms. The Reservation was expanded in 1979 with an additional parcel in Coachella, California. Today, the Tribe has established business enterprises and governmental operations on its sovereign lands, with Spotlight 29 Casino and the Tribal Government Offices near the city of Coachella, and Tortoise Rock Casino near the town of Twentynine Palms. The Tribe provides employment to over 700 people. The Tribe has a strong relationship with the California Desert, particularly in the Twentynine Palms area including the Joshua Tree National Park.  

Artist Howard Pierce began working in Southern California in 1936. In 1945, he opened a pottery in Claremont. He moved to Joshua Tree in 1968 and continued making pottery until 1991. He made contemporary-looking figurines. Though most pieces are marked with his name, smaller items from his sets often were not marked. Pierce used concrete, plastic, pewter, brass, and plaster as materials for his pieces, but his main material was porcelain. 

More fun facts: The Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Training Center, also known as 29 Palms, is the largest United States Marine Corps base.

It is hard to realize that many achievements that have transpired since the Historical Society’s modest beginnings in those library meetings back in 1982. The Society’s goal today remains the same as it was then—to preserve the history of Twentynine Palms and to ensure that the future will know our past. The museum and ever-expanding archives will be the means for this story to be told.

In 2014 the Twentynine Palms Historical Society announced the creation of the “Old Timer of the Year” award program. The goal of this program is to honor early or long-time residents who contributed significantly to the development or betterment of the Twentynine Palms’ community. The program is intended to honor “everyday heroes” whose contributions and efforts over the years have largely gone unsung.

The Hastie Bus on the museum property is a lovingly restored 1928 Chevrolet/Eckland bus brings back the colorful stories and history of the Morongo Basin’s first public transportation service—the 29 Palms Stage and Express. It was in the depths of the Depression and the late-thirities when Johnnie Hastie first drove into Twentynine Palms. His vehicle was the soon-to-become familiar 1928 twelve passenger bus complete with wood-burning stove—called Old Betsy.

This volunteer-run museum is open 1:00 to 4:00 pm, Wednesday through Sunday, (September – May) and 1:00 to 4:00 pm, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the summer (June – August). Admission is free, however, donations are always appreciated.

It is very easy to step back in time while visiting this charming and informative museum. The many volunteers of the 29 Palms Historical Society have put countless hours into bringing the past to life.

Picnic tables are located near the museum entrance. Remember, it’s not unusual for temperatures to reach triple digits in the summer, so please bring plenty of water to drink while you’re enjoying the outdoor displays.

You will find interesting books and handmade items in the museum’s gift store. Outside displays invite you to wander about the grounds and soak up more desert history and imagine how it was in the good ol’ days.

As Huell would have cheerfully declared with his Southern twang, “That’s amazin’!”

No doubt you will find your visit amazin’ too.

20th Anniversary of Joshua Tree National Park and California Desert Protection Act mural by Chuck Caplinger & Art Mortimer, 2014.

Directions: From State Highway 62 take National Park Drive to Inn Avenue.
The museum is located on the east end of 29 Palms across the street from the historic 29 Palms Inn.

Citations and Recommended Resources






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