Preserving history for generations to come
By Camille DeVaul and the Paso Robles Area Historical Society and Museum
In Paso Robles, we are proud of our history. And there is a lot to be proud of. Thanks to the visionary efforts of Norma Moye and Virginia Peterson, the El Paso de Robles Area Historical Society and Museum was born to preserve this history for generations to come.
It all began on a bright February day in 1985 when approximately 35 history enthusiasts gathered at the Plymouth Congregational Church for an exploratory meeting. With Moye as acting chairman and Peterson as acting secretary, the attendees embarked on a journey to explore the idea of forming a historical society. Among those present were influential figures such as A.L. Willhoit, president of the San Luis Obispo Historical Society; Laura Rawson, curator of the county museum; and Clark Herman, president of the Atascadero Historical Society. These leaders, along with others, provided invaluable insights on starting such an organization.
The meeting proved to be a pivotal moment, setting the stage for the society’s future endeavors. After informative talks by guest speakers and lively discussions, questionnaires were distributed to gather feedback and gauge interest. The response was overwhelming, and a follow-up meeting saw the election of the first board members, who would be responsible for shaping the society’s mission and vision.
The society’s mission statement, conceived by this inaugural board, stands as a testament to its enduring purpose: “to collect, protect, and preserve photographs, documents, and publications related to the Paso Robles area.” Over time, the mission expanded to include promoting and sharing knowledge of local history through exhibits, research, and educational initiatives within the community.
Though the Historical Society didn’t start as a museum, its dedication to preserving the region’s history eventually led to one. Today, the El Paso de Robles Area Historical Society serves as the proud curator of the Paso Robles History Museum, nestled within the historic Carnegie Library. The Neo-classical revival structure, funded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, has become a sanctuary for the community’s collective memory.
Peterson’s passion for Paso Robles’ history was unparalleled, and her impact on the society’s growth and success was immeasurable. As a teacher and principal, she earned a Master’s degree in education and authored a thesis on the early history of Paso Robles, which became a beacon for local researchers.
Throughout her life, Virginia remained an active member and served as the society’s president for many years. Moye, a descendant of two prominent pioneer families, the Ronconis and the Richettis, had an unwavering dedication to her hometown. As the executive director of Paso Robles Main Street, she revitalized downtown Paso Robles, turning it into a thriving, tourist-friendly destination that celebrates its unique history. Norma continues to be an active lifetime board member of the Historical Society, leaving an indelible mark on the community she loves.
The Historical Society’s contributions extend beyond the museum’s walls. Over the years, it has actively assisted in preserving historical landmarks and homes, ensuring that the town’s architectural heritage remains intact. Through collaborations with the City Council, the society played a crucial role in developing the Historic Preservation Ordinance, safeguarding properties of historical significance.
The archives within the society hold a wealth of historical artifacts and documents that serve as a valuable resource for researchers, educators, and the community at large. These collections, carefully preserved and curated, provide glimpses into the past and serve as a bridge connecting generations.
Thanks to Norma Moye and Virginia Peterson’s determination and vision, a foundation was laid for an institution dedicated to preserving the stories that define the community’s identity.
The El Paso de Robles Area Historical Society and Museum are honored to be located in the historic Carnegie Library at the center of City Park. To learn more, visit pasorobleshistorymuseum.org.
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