About Marin History Museum

21 August 2012 About MHM
Boyd Gate House 1979 Drawing Boyd Gate House 1979 Drawing Jack Lucey

Our Mission

Founded in 1935, the Marin History Museum celebrates the traditions of innovation and creativity of the people of Marin County. Through exhibitions and educational programs, the Museum inspires honor for the past, an understanding of the present, and an imagination of the future. The Museum is located on the former Boyd Estate in San Rafael, former home of Arctic Explorer and adventurer Louise Arner Boyd.

Boyd Gate House

The charming Boyd Gate House was commissioned in 1879 by Ira Cook. This historic landmark was constructed by Adam Murray. The Gothic Revival style house was created as an overflow guest house and gate house to the Cook and Boyd family home next door, Maple Lawn, now the Elk’s Club of San Rafael.

The Marin Journal gave a glowing account of the house in 1879:

“The work being done by Mr. Ira Cook, at the corner of Sixth [currently Mission Ave.] and B Street and on the face of the hill to the north, is unique and grand, and when completed, the place will be one of the most beautiful to be found on this coast.”

The gardens stretched up the hill behind the gate house with terraces and plantings of ornamental flowers and trees. An adjacent iron-gated entrance (which still exists) and drive-up led to the Cook mansion, Maple Lawn. Inside the Gate House are examples of fine woodwork, elegant plaster ceiling medallions, elaborate brass hinges and doorknobs and marble fireplaces. The Cooks spared no expense in the details of the little house.

In 1874, when Ira Cook came to San Rafael to join his successful Bodie gold-mining sons Dan and Seth, he brought his widowed daughter Theodosia Cook Arner and her daughter Louise Arner. In 1883, his granddaughter Louise married John F. Boyd, a business partner of Dan and Seth Cook. John and Louise had three children: Seth, John and Louise.

John and Louise were mourning the deaths of their two young sons, Seth and John, when they decided a fitting memorial would be to donate the lovely parkland and the Gate House to the City of San Rafael. Boyd Memorial Park was dedicated in 1905. Their daughter Louise Arner Boyd inherited the remaining estate at a very young age and used her fortune to fund her explorations and research in the arctic.

Since 1959, the Boyd Gate House has served as the home of the Marin History Museum (formerly the Marin County Historical Society, founded in 1935), and has delighted visitors with its rich history and Victorian charm.

Marin History Museum Timeline
Celebrating the First 25 Years

Jan. 1934 The Marin County Historical Society (MCHS) holds its first meeting at San Rafael City Hall. June 1935 MCHS moves collection into the building of the San Rafael Independent Newspaper, located at 1028 B Street in San Rafael. Major Newell Vanderbilt presides as Chairman at an organizational meeting to form the Marin County Historical Society. Sept. 5, 1935 At the first annual meeting, Miss Belle Brown is elected President. Sept. 9, 1935 Eighty-nine members sign the charter roll, including members from the Burdell, Cushing, Kent, Murray, Pacheco, Pooley, and Vanderbilt families. Nov. 27, 1935 The Articles of Incorporation are filed with the State of California, which state that the organization is formed for “educational, recreation, and social purposes; specifically to promote the study and research into the history of Marin County and to perpetuate the relics, records and authentic references to the early discoveries, settlement, and organization of Marin County.” World War II Marin residents continue to donate articles of historic value to MCHS. These items are moved into the Museum Room at San Rafael High School. 1943 The first newsletter, the “Pastimer,” is published. 1954 MCHS relocates to the Mission San Rafael Arcangel. 1959 The MCHS collection is relocated again, this time to the Boyd Gate House at 1125 B Street, San Rafael. It is the historic gate house, sometimes called a guest house, for Maple Lawn, Louise Arner Boyd’s estate next door.


March 1967 The first MCHS Bulletin is published. 1969 Olompali mansion burns. MCHS appeals to the Board of Supervisors to save the adobe from the bull dozers and pays for the plastic to protect the walls from the weather. 1971 Marin County Board of Supervisors authorizes publishing Early Marin, the first volume of the County’s history authored by Jack Mason and Helen Van Cleave Park, with research support from MCHS. March 1971 MCHS publishes Marin People, a collection of stories and biographies, Volume I, followed by Volume II in 1973 and Volume III in 1980. Dec. 1972 MCHS receives federal tax exemption as a non-profit organization. Sept. 1974

MCHS vacates the Boyd Gate House and the City begins restoration efforts.

1974 San Rafael celebrates its Centennial. The MCHS’s 1904 Oldsmobile wins a blue ribbon award in the parade. 1974 A plaque is presented, which commemorates the addition of the Boyd Gate House to the National Registrar of Historic Places by the United States Department of Interior. May 1975 MCHS reopens its museum in the restored Boyd Gate House. 1975 The Making of Marin, written by Jack Mason and Helen Van Cleve Park under the auspices of the Marin County Historical Society, is published. July 1979 The Elk’s Club celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Boyd Gate House. April 1985 Native Sons of the Golden West present plaque in honor of Boyd Gate House to commemorate MHCS’s 50th anniversary.


1987 MHM publishes “Science & Society, The Life of Arctic Explorer Louise Boyd.” Oct. 1989 The City of San Rafael closes the Boyd Gate House for seismic retrofitting. March 1993 Restored, renovated, and reorganized, the Boyd Gate House reopens, thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers. The ship’s bell from the James M. Donahue Ferry is permanently installed in front of the Museum. 1999 A complete survey of the Museum’s collection is taken, an important step towards accreditation. 2000 Marin County Historical Society is renamed as the Marin History Museum (MHM). 2004

MHM walking tours of San Rafael begin.

Dec. 2004 Two exhibitions open at the Boyd Gate House: a WWII exhibit featuring oral histories by students of St. Marks School and an exhibition about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge open in the South Gallery. An exhibition on Louise A. Boyd opens in the North Gallery. July 2005 The Artifact and Photography Collections move from the second floor of the Boyd Gate House to a temporary offsite storage space. 2006 Renovations are made to the Boyd Gate House to accommodate larger exhibition space and administration offices. 2006 MHM receives a Conservation Assessment Program grant to identify preservation strategies for improving the use of the historic building and collections. 2006 MHM presents Dorothea Lange at Steep Ravine at the Marin Community Foundation, a traveling exhibition that is also displayed at the San Francisco Public Library (2007), the Bolinas Art Museum (2008), and the Stinson Beach Library (2008). Dec. 2006 MHM presents Marin Family Photo Album, an exhibition featuring photos collected from local Marin families. May 2007 MHM presents Time to Play, an exhibition about early 20th century toys. Nov. 2007 MHM presents Riding the Rails, an exhibition about the historic trains that ran through Marin County. 2008 The Artifact, Photography and Library Collections move to a new temperature and humidity controlled facility. 2008 MHM publishes the book Early San Rafael. 2008 In collaboration with Novato High School's Marin School of the Arts, MHM creates a short documentary titled Trains of Marin. Feb. 2009 MHM presents Growing the Future, an exhibition about Marin’s agricultural pioneers and current farming families. June 2009 MHM holds a gala event featuring a Marin Music Tribute directed by Grammy award-winning producer and drummer Narada Michael Walden. Sept. 2009 Metallica performs for a Marin Rocks fundraising concert organized by MHM. Sept. 2009 MHM launches an annual Open House for educators. Dec. 2009 San Rafael City Council approves 850 Fourth Street as a site for the MHM Music Center and Marin Rocks exhibition. MHM becomes a three campus operation. Dec. 2009 MHM helps organize the Marin Archive Collective, in order to encourage the sharing of information between Marin County’s various heritage organizations. Jan. 2010 MHM presents Ranching and Rockin’ at Olompali an exhibition about Olompali State Park. Jan. 2010 In collaboration with Novato High School’s Marin School of the Arts, MHM produces a short documentary about the Marin Farmers Market. April 2010 MHM receives two Honorable Mentions in the AAM Museum Publication Design Competition. Fall 2010 MHM Music Center will open on Fourth Street in San Rafael.

The Marin History Museum is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation and therefore all donations are tax deductible in accordance with IRS guidelines. The Museum does not receive tax dollars from the city, county, state or federal government and therefore we rely completely on the public's tax deductible contributions.

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