Visalia Heritage looks to the future

Visalia Historian Terry Ommen, gives a brief history of the Toothacre Family and their historical connection with Visalia.(Kenny Goodman)

Visalia Heritage Foundations seeks to start holding quarterly tours to educate community on city’s history; shares future plans for two historic centers

VISALIA – As one of the oldest towns in Central Valley, Visalia is home to a rich and long history, which residents and tourists alike will soon be able to explore by visiting the incoming heritage historic center and taking a virtual walking tour of town.

On Sept. 24, the Visalia Heritage Foundation (VHF) held a private home tour at what they dubbed the “Toothacre House” for their members, where they were able to explore one of the city’s oldest homes and learn a bit about its history.

“We had a little tour on Sunday afternoon, which was mostly a ‘thank you’ to our members who have been loyal to us over the years,” said Walter Deissler, VHF’s vice president. “We had two fantastic student musicians play pieces with a little history to them, and had a nice casual hour or so just spending time in that beautiful home.”

The organization plans to begin holding regular quarterly tours, which will not only be open to members, but the public as well. These tours are just one of the many steps the VHF is taking to educate the community about the history of their city.

“We’re going to have another holiday party in December that will be open to members, where we’ll tour a historical offense conversion, which will be sort of a festive afternoon, we’ll have musicians playing and that sort of thing,” Deissler said. “We’re currently planning and hoping to do four events a year.”

Residents can show their support by becoming members, which will gain them access to certain special events and allow them to go on the tours at now charge. The organization can also be supported through donations, which can be made on their site.

“We always encourage people to join to see what our organization is all about and donate beyond the $25 membership fee,” Deissler said. “We hope the community will join us as we work towards building our historic centers.”

Courtesy of the donations the organization has received over the years, the VHF has been able to work towards creating their Fort Visalia Heritage Room, a small museum of sorts that will be housed in Self-Help Entriprises’s new Loft’s apartment complex, which will finish construction in December.

“We’ve been offered a room — which will actually be the lobby — by (Self Help) that we’ll make into what I’d like to call a ‘mini museum,’” Deissler said. “We have already had a model built, which will be the centerpiece of the lobby, and then around the room on the walls will be a timeline history of Visalia.”

Along with the Fort Visalia Heritage Room, the VHF is also working towards opening a Visalia Heritage Center, which will be located on the corner of Encina and Murray. Like the heritage room, the center will depict various moments in the city’s history.

“We’re just in the formative stages as we’ve just been donated the property,” Deissler said. “When it’s finished, it’ll be a great addition to Visalia, its downtown and the overall community.”

The organization is also currently working on putting together a walking tour of the city, with many of the 18 sites already uploaded to their website. Once complete, they plan to advertise the tour with fliers in various hotels around the city, which will allow guests to scan a QR code to begin the tour.

“We’ve been working on it for a couple of years with the help of volunteers who have donated a lot of their time,” Deissler said. “It’s already live on our website, but it still needs a few last fix ups, so we plan to officially roll it out on Nov. 1.”

According to Deissler, the organizations’ end goal is to educate the community about the city’s history, and hopefully draw in some visitors to their future sites to help support Visalia’s economy.

“We would like to increase our membership and move forward with more community outreach to let the citizens of Visalia know and understand the history of (their town),” he said. “We’d certainly love to have people visit our spaces, stay in our hotels and head downtown to do the walking tour.”

The Visalia Heritage Foundation was initially started in 1979, with a goal to protect the city’s historic legacy. During their years, they’ve published two books, resorted and old city chapel, assisted the Fox Theater in getting a new movie projector, as well as donated $5,000 to the Sequoia Legacy Tree Exhibit.

More information about the organization, such as their rich 44 year history and their extensive historical archives, can be found on visaliaheritage.org.

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