Despite the labor undertaken by Tom Marshall to make the Three Rivers Historical Museum a roadside attraction worth seeing, to craft a stop satisfying enough visitors don’t feel cheated for whiling away part of their too-short vacation wandering among its crowded collection of Wild West antiquities, he really isn’t all that interested in history.
A Historian in the Family
The real historian in the family, he says, is his workmate and wife, Dody Marshall. The two of them share cluttered side-by-side desks in the museum’s back room, and as Marshall, who serves as president of the Three Rivers Historical Society, shares his story, she chimes in from the background with welcome corrections and additions.
“Her interest in history kind of spills over to me where she makes it interesting enough for me to get involved,” said Marshall. “I’m more the promoter. I see this little museum, and we need to do this and we need to do that, and so I go looking for new money, looking for grants, that sort of thing.”
His searches have been very successful. Hopefully by the end of June, certainly by the Fourth of July weekend, the museum’s new wing will be open to the public, just in time for the seventh annual Hot Dog Festival on July 9.
The added 800 or so square feet of space will house items from Mineral King, the small mountain community to the east of Three Rivers and high above it in the alpine, as well as part of the collection already on display in conditions so cramped the items nearly push each other off the shelves.
Cowboy gear, delicate furniture, art and books of early Tulare County, all of compete for visitors’ attention. It’s just one of the upgrades the museum and its grounds will see in the near future, and another result of Tom Marshall’s hunt for museum money.
“The funding for it, the majority of it, about 99% of it,” he said, “came through an individual connected to the Mineral King Preservation Society.”
Tom Marshall was born in Artesia in the days before that Southern California city bore the name.
“At the time I was born, the town was not incorporated,” he said. “It was known as Whittier Rural.”
After high school and a bit of college, Marshall joined the Navy, eventually becoming a petty officer third class during his 6-year hitch. His skills as an organizer were clear to the military.
“I was a yeoman, one of them in charge of the ship’s office aboard ship,” he said. “I was two and a half years on the USS Taluga, which was an oiler or service fleet. A good part of that, a year of that, was spent along the Vietnam coast in 1965.”
Dody Marshall was born in Artesia, too, and the military also shaped her life substantially.
“I’m an Air Force brat,” she said. “We moved around a lot.”
After leaving the service, Tom Marshall spent most of the next two decades working for the Automobile Association, first as a service representative, travel trainer and office manager during an 11-year stint in Southern California, then another six years spent as the regional manager for all of southern Colorado through AAA’s office in Colorado Springs.
After he left AAA, the Marshalls headed to the Bay Area, but found the cost of living there just too high to bear.
“I came to Three Rivers because of, a little bit of family, a lot because we wanted to get out of the Bay Area, where the price of everything was going sky high,” he said.
His sister, Linda Drouet and her husband Roger, were already living here, and soon their mother would join her children as a Three Rivers resident.
Once here, the Marshalls quickly integrated into the tight-knit mountain community. They established a reservations system for local hotels, as well as for Sequoia-Kings and Yosemite parks.
“Once we got here, we were still self-employed,” Marshall said. “We did that for 10 years. We took over the Three Rivers Travel business for a few years.”
It was that takeover that led the Marshalls into the hallowed halls of history.
“The lady who had the travel agency, she was involved with the board and kept telling me she wanted me to get more involved,” he said. “At the time, I was actually on the board of the Chamber of Commerce. After 15 years, I said you need some new blood at the chamber and I came to the museum.”
Tom and Dody Marshall don’t seem able to sit still, with projects boiling away on all burners in the museum’s back room.
“We’re supposed to be retired,” Tom said. “Between Dody and I, we spend a lot of time here in the museum. She actually enjoys the history of things and the researching of the history of things.”
The couple also enjoys stirring things up a bit. Take the Hot Dog Festival, now in its seventh year, for example.
“It’s proven to have quite the history,” Tom recalled. “Seven years ago, Dody and I were sitting in Anne Lang’s Emporium here in town having lunch, and we were talking about how we really need something to do in the summertime here in Three Rivers. We thought: July is National Hot Dog Month, so we’re going to have a hot dog festival.”
The idea was not greeted with universally open arms among Three Rivers denizens.
“People kept tell us, ‘No, you can’t do that. The town shuts down. It’s too hot,’” Marshall said. “People know me as [someone who] if you tell me I can’t do it, that tells me I’m going to try.”
The event has grown in size and popularity since then, becoming a fixture of the midsummer and a source of support for one of the community’s other pillars, the Three Rivers Volunteer Fire Department.
“I got in touch with our local volunteer firefighters, and it is actually a joint fundraiser for the firefighters and the museum,” Marshall said. “Our first one seven years ago, when we were done each half got about $550. Last year, each half got just under $2,500. A lot of hot dogs. We figured about 500 meals in five hours.”
“We also had the Wiener Mobile,” Dody Marshall added.
On the Trail of History
The Mineral King expansion isn’t the only upgrade the Museum will see over the next year or two. The Marshalls and the Historical Society have several projects in mind.
Under development already is a 1,600-foot trail through the Museum’s grounds. The trail itself is already complete thanks to help from the crews from the Mountain Home Conservation Camp, a prisoner rehab facility operated by Cal Fire and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
“We have a lot of history for Three Rivers right here on the property,” Marshall said. “One of the things we feel good about, that’s becoming pretty popular is that I wanted to do some kind of trail throughout this property, so I contacted Cal Fire.”
Signs along the trail mark the important sites, and Marshall has put together a brochure visiting hikers can carry along to explain the significance of the events and people involved in them.
One of those sites is the former home of Bruce and Jesse Beckett, built in 1926. The spot where their small, white house stands now was also the location of Jesse Beckett’s childhood home. Her grandfather, Judge Walter Fry, was Sequoia Park’s first civilian superintendent. The original home burned down in 1913. Jesse’s father died in that fire, Tom said, killed trying to save the family piano, which had been an anniversary gift to his wife.
The Beckett’s surviving family, when they learned of the plan to restore their relatives’ home, offered to donate some of the original furnishings.
“We already have some of it,” Marshall said. “We have her writing desk. Just outside this door right here, there’s a barrister’s cabinet for law books and such. It belonged to her grandfather.”
The interior restoration will start as soon as county officials approve the permits.
Also in the works is a reconstruction of Three Rivers’ first saloon. It stood on the museum grounds near the banks of the now-abandoned original course of the Bahwell Ditch. The saloon’s owners would cool their whiskey in the ice-cold runoff from the Sierra snows, Marshall said.
A Place for Community
Road-weary travelers will soon congregate on the museum’s grounds again, once the museum’s next project is complete. Using funds from the estate of longtime Three Rivers resident Chandler Wilcox and another benefactor, the Historical Society plans to construct a two-story barn that will house the trio of carriages Wilcox left the museum in his will.
“[The donations will] get us started on adding, by the end of this year, a two-story barn. If everything goes right, it’ll be on the other (southern) end of the property,” Marshall said. “It will face the little white house and the museum. On the highway side of this barn, we’re hoping we’ll have public restrooms and some picnic tables.”
The museum has also become a nexus for community-minded Three Rivers residents. When the Beckett House needed a new coat of white paint, the Marshalls turned for help to their community, to gather many hands to make the work lighter.
“I put it in the paper were going to have a painting, people,” Marshall said. “Seventeen people showed up to help paint. In three and a half hours, the whole thing was painted outside with brush and rollers.”
Tom Marshall does have one other hobby. He’s been photographing wildlife since 1950, though when he finds time to do it these days is anyone’s guess. Some of his work is on display at the museum. To contact Marshall about his images, call (559) 561-4085.
The Three Rivers Historical Museum is open most days from 9am-3pm. It is located at 42268 Sierra Drive. For more information, call the Museum at (559) 561-2707, or visit it on the web at 3rmuseum.org.