BULLHEAD CITY — A new building and a new crop of volunteers has meant that the Colorado River Museum has new hours. New summer hours.
For years, the museum’s previous home in the old Catholic church building at Davis Camp was left dark and dormant during the summer months because of a lack of manpower and the high cost of cooling facility. Add the fact that the museum was off the beaten path — away from steady foot traffic — and it made sense to shut down for June, July and part of August.
“All the years I worked at the museum, we were always closed for the summer,” said Elsie Needles, president of the Colorado River Historical Society and Museum, the nonprofit that operates the museum.
She said the society recently welcomed some new volunteers, meaning there is enough staff to run the new museum building at Bullhead Community Park, at least on a limited basis.
Needles said the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday during the summer, when Community Park often is a busy place.
“We have some new volunteers,” she said. “And we’re only open four days (a week) for four hours a day. I think that will work out. It’s going to work. We have it covered.“
She said she hopes the summer availability will introduce the museum and its contents to a new batch of visitors, people who visit the Tri-state in the summer months and children who are in school during the rest of the year.
“A lot of people would call and say, ‘Oh, you’re not open,’ ” Needles said. “They’d be in town for a day or two or a weekend in the summer and we weren’t open.
“This gives the public a chance to come visit, to come in and see the museum.”
Needles said the fencing around the facility is in place, which will help keep the building and its contents more secure. It also will allow for placement of some of the outdoor displays currently at the old museum site.
“It won’t be long until we staring moving some of the stuff from the old museum to the new museum,” she said. “Wagons, wheels... other stuff. It won’t be long until they put the gravel down and we can move that stuff (to the new building).”
Another plan for the new building is construction of a library area, for both research and browsing
purposes, to house the volumes of historical books that currently are in storage. Toward that end, the historical society will hold a book sale on Saturday at the Lil’ Red Schoolhouse — next door to the museum at Community Park — from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Scores of books will be available, thanks to the generosity of a museum patron and his family.
“They were donated to us,” Needles said of the wide collection of genres and titles that belonged to a local man. “He was an avid book-collector. He passed on and his family donated them to us.”
Needles said the collection includes something for just about every interest.
“It’s just a variety of titles,” she aid. “We have been selling them for a couple of months. Every topic you can imagine. Birds. Cars. Everything.”
Proceeds from the book sale will go toward construction of the library within the museum.
‘We are trying to gather some money to have a library built,” Needles said. “Our history books still are at the old building. We want them to be part of the museum, where they are accessible to people doing research or wanting to learn more (about Tri-state history).”
In addition to new volunteers, the historical society board appointed a new treasurer and board member. Carla Lucas will take over for Cheryle Howard, who will be living in Oregon for a good portion of the year going forward.
In 1947, workers building Davis Dam also built Bullhead City’s first Catholic church at Davis Camp. The church, which sits on the edge of what is now a Mohave County park, was abandoned in the early 1980s after the Department of the Interior, which owns the land, notified the church that its lease would not be renewed. The county eventually took ownership of the land and, in 1991, began leasing it to the fledgling Colorado River Historical Society.
It served as the Colorado River Museum until 2018.
When the museum board and patrons began working with others to bring the museum to Community Park as part of a planned Heritage Center, it was determined that the church building was not structurally sound enough to be moved from Davis Camp to the park a few miles to the south.
Fundraising, which already had begun to finance moving the museum building and its contents, shifted to erection of a new museum building.
The fundraising effort received a big boost when anonymous donors — later identified as Larry and Veda Mercer — provided a major donation that was used toward building the 2,100 square foot Phase I of the museum. Plans are to expand the facility to 6,000 square feet in phases as financing becomes available.
The museum displays historic artifacts and showcases the history of the Mojave Indian Tribe, the Katherine gold mine, Mohave Valley, Fort Mohave and Bullhead City. Also on display are memorabilia celebrating the early years of Laughlin as a gambling center, as well as the region’s ties to the space program and to author Louis L’Amour.
Putting the museum at Community Park, next to the Lil’ Red Schoolhouse and the Moss Mine headframe, made sense to city officials.
“It’s a location for all of our tourists, all of our residents, all of our school groups — for everyone to learn about our history,” Cotter said during the museum’s opening in December. “So it’s a win-win for the city and the historical society and our residents, who will benefit ... for decades.”
While the future of the museum is centered around Community Park, the future of the previous site — the church building at Davis Camp — isn’t so certain.
“The relocation of the Colorado River Museum to Bullhead City Community Park the fall of 2018 has left many residents questioning the destiny of our old location, the former St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church at Davis Camp,” the historical society posted on its Facebook page. “The easy answer is we still lease the old church from the county and use it to store artifacts, displays and library materials for which we have no room at the new museum. We expect to have space for these items once we complete Phase Two of our new building, for which we are starting to fundraise.
“What happens to the old church after we finally vacate is not known. However, we understand its historical significance is appreciated by local planners, so we expect it does have a future.”