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Durlynn Anema: A hidden gem — McFarland Ranch

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Posted: Sunday, July 16, 2017 3:30 pm

A hidden gem lies west of Galt — McFarland Ranch. Leased by the Galt Area Historical Society for 99 years, this "Living History Ranch" has much to offer to adults and children.

My ranch tour was led by Society members, Janis Barsetti, president, and Ida Denier, vice president. I was totally blown away by what I saw both because I had only vaguely heard of the ranch and because of the excellent restoration of the house and grounds. McFarland Ranch can stand with some of the famous residences I've visited over the years.

The 3,000-acre property was left to Sacramento County as a trust. The county then leased 34 acres to the Galt Area Historical Society. All of the improvements on this acreage have been paid for by the Society through grants, donations and fund raisers. The restoration projects on the grounds started in 1997, with the house restoration beginning in 1999.

John McFarland arrived in the Sacramento Valley in 1857 when be bought 600 acres in the Galt area. He named Galt after a town in Canada where he had lived when young. He began building his house on the ranch in 1872, creating a two-story frame house with porch. Other buildings on the property, most of which are original, include a tank house, a carriage house, blacksmith shop, a barn and corrals, a chicken coop and three sheds. He built the bunkhouse for the local area Miwok Indians who worked his fields.

The grounds contain several grass areas now used for Society fundraisers and other events including a car show in September, weddings, and family gatherings. The grass immediately in front of the house is surrounded by a white picket fence. The Society plans on erecting a barn as an events center and to display 1800's era artifacts and farm implements. The house is surrounded by lovely floral gardens.

Walking up the porch of the house, then entering the foyer immediately takes you back to the 1800s. Every room is furnished authentically in proper period pieces. You can almost picture the family living here from the parlors and dining room to the kitchen and upstairs to the bedrooms. Each cabinet holds antique dishes, glassware and curios. The dining room table is set, ready to entertain guests. There's a Butler's Pantry between kitchen and dining room for direct service.

Upon entering the kitchen, the wood burning stove and ice box immediately catch your eye. Utensils are in place along with containers for food stuffs. Off the kitchen is the laundry area with washboard, tubs and a hand-operated wringer.

Upstairs are four bedrooms plus a sewing room. A young gir'ls bedroom has dolls including Storybook ones. A man's bedroom has his clothes laid out as does the woman's bedroom. And another bedroom seems ready for guests.

Because of the house's age it needs constant maintenance. The outside window frames are elaborate and carefully restored. The carriage house is in the process of restoration to be used by brides before their weddings as well as restrooms.

Ida Denier is in charge of weddings and other rental gatherings. She and John Durand also created the "Where History Comes Alive History Education Program." This living history museum for youth at McFarland Ranch is designed for kindergarten through high school students with a large variety of activities. They serve between 3,000 and 5,000 students a year.

When I saw examples of the activities I was ready to learn. Students learn about rope making, starting with stings of twine. They find out washing clothes required a wash board, tubs, a hand worked wringer and racks for drying. Candles are made along with learning tin snipping and punching. The list of activities is huge: gardening, butter making, building bird houses, ice cream making, feeding the chickens with corn they grind, quill writing, making corn husk dolls. All these activities take the students back to the 1800s.

Many students and teachers come dressed for the time period. The students get opportunities to do several activities throughout the day. A large dinner bell rings to let students know it is time to change to another activity.

Directions to the ranch: Take Twin Cities Road west from Highway 99 or east from Interstate 5. Turn south on Christensen Road, then right on Orr Road which takes you to the grounds and house.

On July 29 the Historical Society's annual "Sip and Snack at the Mac" takes place at the ranch starting at 6 p.m. The public will be able to tour the house and grounds along with a food, wine and beer tasting and music and dancing. Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 at the door. Contact or call 209-745-1477.

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