The education of children and the transportation of beautifully fragrant oranges: two vastly different purposes for one beautiful building. That is the history of the Children’s Museum at La Habra, which once housed the La Habra Union Pacific train station, a staple of the city today as well as in the past.
Today, the pride that the Children’s Museum takes in its building’s prosperous railroading history is evident throughout the “Old Wing” of the museum, which is original from 1923. While walking through the Nature Walk Room it is easy to imagine how lovely a waiting room it would have been for people eager to catch a train to a new adventure. Just down the hall a “Ticket Booth” sign still awaits visitors entering the Nannie’s Travels room. What was once a holding room for baggage now holds a Model Train Village, a direct showcase of the museum’s link to its historic roots. The long room, that is now the changing gallery, used to see heavy crates of oranges and avocados pass through its large doors as the freight room. Finally the Carousel room once opened right onto the platform as trains rushed by.
Back in the 1920s and 30s, from that covered platform, train passengers could look out on La Habra, but it would not be the La Habra of today, but miles and miles of orange groves. In the early 1900s, a reliable water supply allowed for the rich soil and sunny climate of La Habra to create the perfect grove of citrus fruits. With all this fruit, La Habra needed to distribute it as quickly as efficiently as possible. Thus, the building that houses the Children’s Museum today was constructed to be the second of two train depots that serviced the La Habra area. The first station, built in 1908, was operated by the Pacific Electric. The Victorian-style Pacific Electric Depot now sits next to the Children’s Museum as the La Habra Depot Theater and acts as a showcase for local community theatre. The second station, today’s Children’s Museum, was built in a Mission-style in 1923 and was operated by Union Pacific. The two stations shared the tracks, which were a part of the Overland route, which ran from Omaha, Nebraska to Los Angeles. The success of both train stations shows the strength of the agriculture of La Habra during this time.
So next time you are at the Children’s Museum, while your children are happily playing, look around the “Old Wing” or our 1942 Caboose and remember you aren’t just in a museum, but a part of La Habra’s history. If you listen closely you might even hear the click of wheels on the track or a train whistle sound from days gone by.