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Heritage Museum aims to educate, expand

September has been a big month at the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, because while gearing up for the Fifth Annual Lima Bean Faire, its board also submitted a master plan for expansion of the museum to the Encinitas Planning Commission.

If all goes well, the museum can begin renovations in October.

The museum is laid out in chronological order to span the history of the San Dieguito region, from the time of the Native Americans, the rancho period, the pioneers and the farming community, the emergence of main street and Highway 101, all the way up to the surf culture of today.

The plan is to create or renovate small buildings on the property to house the artifacts and memorabilia of each particular era.

The first project is the Teton house, an 1880s home that needs a foundation and a new roof before visitors can go inside. The plan is to move the house to the center of the grounds while the foundation is established. When the house is finished, the museum will move on to other structures in the master plan, such as a small adobe house or main street storefront.

But it’s slow going for the fledgling museum, which moved four times before finally relocating to its permanent home at 450 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas.

Executive Director Will Neblett wasn’t entirely joking when he said it would take “about a hundred years” to get the project finished.

“Getting funding for a historical museum is challenging, to say the least,” he said. The project will be completed “as money becomes available,” he added.

That’s why the other September happening, the 5th Annual Lima Bean Faire, is vital. Not only does it help build the community through education, camaraderie and food, the funds also help pay for the expenses at the site.

The museum offers free historical arts and crafts for families every Saturday. It’s also a popular school field trip for area third graders who learn, among other things, about the history of the homesteaders. The lives of these pioneers are brought to life by the staff, who illustrate the past with stories about the region. The buildings and displays show in detail how these people lived.

“Some people came here and homesteaded, which means they got free land from the government,” Neblett said. “They’d live on the land and they’d have to build a house.”

Neblett said each family was given 160 acres. The program started in the 1860s and ended around the 1920s.

Jan Grice, a museum docent, said her husband’s family was one of those homesteaders in the late 1800s. Because the family was large and included a father-in-law, they were considered as two groups and were awarded 320 acres.

“Bit by bit, the land was sold by necessity; through the Depression, it trickled away. The last piece was sold while my husband was away in World War ll,” Grice said.

Today, that land is known as the Encinitas Ranch Golf Course.

Grice said she especially enjoys showing the museum to the groups of third graders who take the tour as part of their social studies classes.

“It doesn’t matter how long you’re here in this particular area – whether you’re born here or your parents were born here or whether you’ve been here for two weeks. This is still a part of your personal history,” she said.

Grice shared the story of a little girl who had just seen the shanty that the pioneers lived in. She said the child reached for her hand as she confided her thoughts.

“Those folks had it hard, didn’t they?” Grice said the child asked. “But they didn’t give up,” she concluded.

Grice said moments like that are what make her job worthwhile.

She tells the children how the early settlers had much more bravery than they did money. They didn’t have much in their pockets, or, if they did, it was cash from their home country. So they learned to barter. Grice teaches the children a bartering game to help them understand.

“They can see and touch things, rather than reading about them in a book,” Grice said. “I think they go away with a much better insight for what it was like in those days.”

Soon, everyone will also be able to taste what it was like because of the Lima Bean Faire, celebrating the history of the green legume. The settlers farmed lima beans because they were sustainable; they didn’t need irrigation, getting their moisture from the marine layer and rain.

To celebrate the cultural history of the lima bean and jazz up its flavor profile, the fair includes a cook-off with amateur and professional entries.

“We have people making different lima bean recipes, competing for cash prizes and a coveted lima bean trophy,” Neblett said.

Past bean entries have ranged from hummus to brownies.

The fair takes place from noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 28. It’s located at the museum at 450 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas. For more information, call 760-632-9711 or go to

Helen Hawes is a North County freelance writer

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Heritage Museum aims to educate, expand