Within Victory Park in downtown Stockton stands the red brick Haggin Museum. The museum houses an extensive collection of American and European art as well as displays covering the history of California, the growth of manufacturing and agriculture in the Central Valley and in Stockton in particular. There are displays dedicated to Charles Weber, the founder of the City of Stockton, an entire gallery dedicated to Benjamin Holt and the development of the Caterpillar Tractor, to Tillie Lewis, who introduced tomato production and canning to San Joaquin County, to Sperry Flour Mills, one of the oldest milling companies in California. The museum also has an exhibit dedicated to Stephens Brothers boats and houses the company’s archives. There are is also a reconstructed 1900’s “Main Street” and various exhibits of local interest.
In 1928, the San Joaquin Pioneer and Historical Society was founded with the following objectives: “to develop educational facilities for the study of history, to collect documents and articles of historical interest, and to establish and maintain a museum where such items could be stored and displayed”. In April 1929. Mr. Robert T. McKee made an offer to the San Joaquin Pioneer and Historical Society on behalf of his wife, Eila: if an art wing was added to the purposed history museum and named in honor of her late father, Louis Terah Haggin, she would donate thirty thousand dollars towards construction of the building as well as an unspecified number of paintings from her father’s collection.
With this gift, the museum opened on June 14, 1931. The museum has been expanded and renovated several times since then; the latest renovation being completed in 2017. The several galleries gold pieces from the Haggin collection of European and American art, a significant collection of the works of J.C. Leyendecker, who was, before Norman Rockwell, one of America’s best known commercial artists, and the archives, not only of the San Joaquin Pioneer and Historical Society, but of the Stephens Brothers Boat Works, material from the Holt Manufacturing Company, the Sperry Flour Company, and the Tillie Lewis Food Company.
In it’s American Gallery, the Haggin displays some of the finest works from the Hudson River School including paintings by George Inness, William Bradford, Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt. In the Haggin and McKee Galleries, there are many European Realist and Impressionist works to view including works by William Merritt Chase, Rosa Bonheur, Jean Beraud, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and many others, all dating from the mid-19th to the early 20th century. There is also some small statuary and ornamental pieces on display. There is also the Jeanie Hunter Rooms, which give a glimpse into how a prosperous farmhouse was furnished at the turn of the 20th century.
The museum also has an extensive collection of Indigenous American artifacts, including a recreated Miwok dwelling, and various historic vehicles on display including a WWII jeep that was one of 275 funded by the donations from the students and faculty of Stockton High School. One of the oddest artifacts is the “Death Trunk” of Emma LeDoux, the first woman sentenced to death for murder in California. Emma poisoned her third husband, stuffed him in the trunk while he was alive and had the trunk sent to the train depot in Stockton. Her husband died in the trunk. The murder was discovered after the baggage master noticed a foul smell emanating from the trunk and called the authorities. Emma was sentenced to death, but upon retrial she was sentenced to life in prison. The trunk is a grisly artifact of an at the time scandalous crime.
For me, the jewel of the Haggin Museum, besides the collection of Bierstadt paintings is the collection of illustrations by J.C. Leyendecker. From the early 1900’s though the 1930’s Leyendecker was one of the best known commercial illustrators in the country. His clients included Arrow shirts, Hart-Shaffner & Marx, Amoco, the Boy Scouts of America, Ivory Soap, Karo Syrup, Palmolive, Cream of Wheat, Kellog’s, the Saturday Evening Post, the Timken Company, Willys-Overland, Collier’s Weekly, the US Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. His illustrations helped define the style and look of the 1910’s-1930’s. Some of his illustrations remain recognizable today. He was Norman Rockwell before Norman Rockwell became famous. His sister donated many of his works to the Haggin Museum upon her death. The Haggin museum now holds the largest museum collection of his works.
GETTING THERE: The Haggin Museum is located at 1201 N. Pershing Avenue, Stockton, CA 95203. From 414 Mason Street take I-80 East across the Bay Bridge to I-580 East. From I-580 East, take I-205 East towards Tracy/Stockton. Merge onto I-5 North. Take Exit 473 for the University of the Pacific/North Pershing Ave. Turn Left on to Picardy Drive and then right into Victory Park. The museum will be on the right.