Sheep, cattle, horses, chickens, hay, cotton, ostriches: the town of Gilbert was founded by farmers who seem to have tended to it all. Dubbed the “Hay Shipping Capital of the World” in the early 20th century, Gilbert’s legacy seemed to be focused on what these farmers raised. But, inside the Gilbert Historical Museum you won’t find cattle or hay or even ostriches, besides the few feathers and eggs on display. Instead you’ll find stories of who those farmers were, and how their families shaped the town we know today.
One of Gilbert’s first elementary schools, a white stucco building constructed in 1913, sits on the corner of Elliot and Gilbert Road. Although a piece of history itself, the school has taken on a new role as the Gilbert Historical Museum, housing artifacts and exhibits depicting the early life in Gilbert, Arizona.
The Gilbert Historical Museum isn’t only preserving Gilbert’s culture; it’s driving it forward. The Museum, under the direction of the Gilbert Historical Society, provides local community groups a location for their meetings, classes and shows.
“The Gilbert Historical Museum is in the process of evolving into an arts and culture organization,” Cherie Scott, a former member of the Gilbert Arts and Culture Board, said. “If you look at their programming now, they’re adding lectures and they’re adding arts programs and how to paint and how to garden and they have a bluegrass group that comes in and jams once a month. It’s definitely moving away from being just a historical society to being the community leader for arts and culture.”
The Gilbert Visual Art League (GVAL), for example, holds monthly meetings and hosts their semiannual art shows at the Museum’s “Gallery 4”, a space “where art leads you into a conversation about our community, culture, and environment”, according to curator Alan Fitzgerald.
Before the museum gallery was made available to GVAL, there was no local or reliable venue for their art shows. Members hoping to display art honoring Gilbert often had to do so in Apache Junction at East Side Art, a gallery willing to provide space for Gilbert’s artists.
“We display our artwork in Gallery 4,” Deb Randall, former art show coordinator and current member of GVAL, said. “It’s huge for us because before having our shows here, which this is our third or fourth year, trying to find space elsewhere was exceedingly difficult. So the museum, providing a place and a time slot where they open the doors, they handle the sales, it’s really helpful to us.”
The Gilbert Historical Museum’s grand re-opening is on Dec. 2, where they will announce their new name, HD South, and have live music, kid’s activities, and new interactive exhibits.