Museum of area history to open this month

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Canyon Lakers may think of Menifee as little more than a neighbor to their east. But Canyon Lake’s history is part of Menifee Valley’s history. Canyon Lake pioneer Elinor Martin is president of the Menifee Valley Historical Association and has written a pictorial history of Canyon Lake called “Images of America: Canyon Lake.”

Her family’s history is Canyon Lake’s history; and that’s why the grand opening of the Menifee Valley Historical Museum on Sunday afternoon, May 22, is something Canyon Lakers will appreciate attending. And it’s possibly the closest thing Canyon Lake will ever have to its own museum.

Elinor’s great-grandfather, J.B. Ferrell, was the first recorded settler to purchase land on what is now known as the Audie Murphy Ranch. He settled there in 1887 and, a few years later, his son-in-law Henry Evans moved from San Bernardino to what is now the east end of Canyon Lake. Elinor’s father, George Dewey Evans, was born in 1898 when the area already had come to be known as Menifee. He raised his family on land near the current Loma Linda Hospital.

“When I was young, we lived part of the year at that ranch and, in the summer months, we would move to Railroad Canyon Reservoir, which is now Canyon Lake,” says Elinor.

In 1882, when the California Southern Railroad began service between Perris and Elsinore, the area was known as Railroad Canyon; but after three washouts, the line was abandoned. The Temescal Water Company later purchased the land and constructed the dam (completed in 1929), thus creating Railroad Canyon Lake. The Evans family operated a fishing resort there for 30 years until 1968, when Temescal developed the private community of Canyon Lake. Elinor’s book about Canyon Lake is filled with early pictures and descriptions of the fishing resort and Canyon Lake’s development.

Don Martin was born in Perris. His ancestry there goes back to the late 1890s when his grandparents, Fred and Maggie Dunsmoor, arrived in Perris, along with his great grandparents. In years past, the Perris Historical Museum has honored both the Dunsmoor and Evans families as Pioneer Family of the Year. Perris Valley included Menifee in those early days. Don has been very supportive of Elinor’s work on the Menifee museum, and often is there helping along with other members.

Speaking of her quest to preserve area history, Elinor says there were less than 50 families living in a four-square-mile area from Newport to Murrieta to Scott to Antelope. Two schools (Menifee and Antelope) had a combined total of 52 students.

“I personally knew most of the families and where to locate their descendants. Actually, I was related to many of them,” says Elinor. “I was elected president of the Menifee Valley Historical Association in 2009 and the goal was to have the members write their personal stories about life in the valley . . . The number of items in the museum collection has grown to over 3,000. MVHA has not had a facility for displaying or sharing any of their collection until now.”

Recently, the Menifee Union School District Board leased two classrooms at the site of the old Menifee Elementary School on Garbani Road. Since September 2015, Elinor and other members have been preparing the site for the May 22 grand opening, which will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. Elinor’s pictorial books about Canyon Lake history and Menifee history will be for sale.

After it opens, the museum will be open to the public at no charge every Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m. It operates on donations and grants, so donations are appreciated. It’s located just five miles from Canyon Lake at 26301 Garbani Rd., between Menifee Middle School and the Boys and Girls Club.

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Sharon Rice