The Homestead’s New Exhibit on Overland Routes West, 1820-1920

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

On 25-26 March, the Homestead is co-sponsoring with the Taos Art Council in New Mexico a two-day festival called Take a Detour from Route 66: Taos to L.A.  On Saturday at the Homestead and on Sunday at the nearby Rowland House, poets will present readings of works based on the theme of overland travel from New Mexico to Los Angeles on the Old Spanish Trail (which operated from 1829 to 1848 and is the route used by the Rowland and Workman families to migrate here) and Route 66, which opened in 1926.

Part of the Homestead’s new exhibit on overland travel from 1820 to 1920 now on view in the museum’s gallery through early April to tie into a two-day poetry reading event called Take a Detour from Route 66: Taos to L.A., held here and at the nearby Rowland House on 25-26 March.

As a build-up to the event, members of our public programs and collections staff collaborated to develop a temporary exhibit in the Homestead Museum Gallery based on the concept of overland travel west.  This includes the Old Spanish Trail and Route 66, but also takes in railroads, especially as the intermediate breakthrough between the others.

The other portion of the overland travel exhibit.

Overseen by our programs manager Gennie Truelock and assisted by Jennifer Scerra, Elizabeth Flynn, Isis Quan, Melanie Tran, and Michelle Villarreal, the display includes artifacts from the Homestead’s collection in two exhibit cases and others reproduced for wall panels, some which stand alone and others accompanied by text.

The museum’s programs manager Gennie Truelock took an early 20th century postcard promoting Los Angeles to migrants and tourists and overlaid westbound overland routes on it for a striking visual effect.

In tracing a century of overland travel, the display highlights technological change (pack mules to trains to automobiles) as well as impacts (population growth, economic benefits, the rise in tourism) that came from increasing use of west-bound routes to our area.  One of the most striking visuals in the reproduction of an early 20th-century postcard promoting Los Angeles, over which Gennie laid out the routes of the Old Spanish Trail, railroad lines, and Route 66.


Text panels briefly describe each of the major routes, with the example above highlighting the importance of railroads to the growth of greater Los Angeles.  The transcontinental railroad completed to Oakland in 1869 was connected by a route from this area seven years later.  But, it was the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe transcontinental line that directly reached Los Angeles in 1885 that opened the floodgates via the “Boom of the 1880s.”


Another text panel, with an eye-catching background of an early 1900s postcard showing obviously fabricated giant oranges, discussed how publicity and promotion played a vital role in travel to Los Angeles and to the region’s growth as an agricultural empire and a hub of the southwestern part of the United States.


The exhibit cases display a variety of Homestead artifacts related to travel, migration, economic development, and tourism, among others.  Photographs, maps, magazine articles, government reports, and wine bottles, for example, are exhibited in the case shown above.  The long map in the back was printed just after the completion of the Union Pacific-Central Pacific transcontinental railroad in 1869.  The wine bottles reflect the availability of locally grown products to others in America through improved transportation via the railroad.


The second case includes a photo of tourists on a sightseeing trip in the Los Angeles area, a cotton sack used for packing “Diamond” brand walnuts, sheet music singing (!) the praises of California, and pamphlets and postcards promoting the region to tourists and their friends and family back home.

In April, we will be taking down this exhibit and putting up one that deals with a major theme for the Homestead this year, which is the centennial of America’s entry in “The Great War”, now known as World War I.  This will be in conjunction with some programming, specifically a lecture series that has the war as its general theme.

Meantime, come down and take a tour of the museum’s historic houses and cemetery and allow some time to see this interesting, informative and visually arresting exhibit.

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