Irvine Historical Museum is part of the original ranch house that James Irvine commissioned in 1867.

Tour Irvine’s Historical Museum

by Ellen Bell

The Irvine Historical Museum is a treasure trove of history tucked away next to the Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course.

Inside, visitors can learn about the days when there were cowboys, citrus groves and a Jamboree of 50,000 Boy Scouts on The Irvine Ranch. The memorabilia on display are precious pieces of Irvine’s past, but the most historic artifact is the building itself.

The museum has a number of tile works depicting Irvine Ranch history from sheep grazing to agriculture to master planning the new city of Irvine.

The museum is part of the original ranch house that James Irvine commissioned in 1867, shortly after he and his partners purchased the land. The current building was added in 1877 and is the oldest surviving structure in the city of Irvine.

When the little house was built, there was no civilization for miles. In fact, it was one of the few wooden structures between Anaheim and San Diego.

James Irvine lived in San Francisco, so the house was home to his ranch manager, Charles French, and his family. Irvine would stay there during his visits to the ranch.

Irvine Ranch chain of title from the King of Spain.

In 1876, Irvine moved the ranch operations to a larger home near the stagecoach line (today, the intersection of Jamboree Road and Irvine Boulevard). The current Katie Wheeler Public Library is an exact replica of this second ranch house.

In 1977, the Irvine Historical Society was formed and was in need of a museum. The little ranch house was still standing and in use as a cantina for the adjacent golf course. Eventually, Irvine Company donated it for use as the Irvine Historical Museum.

During a recent renovation, workers found a layer of limestone surrounding the building that was part of the original foundation. Instead of discarding the old stonework, the limestone was incorporated into the back garden. Today, the limestone rocks that line the garden trail are part of Irvine’s past.

James Irvine’s first ranch house is open 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays and Sundays. The Irvine Historical Society also hosts a “Let’s Talk History” open house from 3-5 p.m. every third Sunday of the month.

Irvine Historical Museum: 5 San Joaquin. Phone: 949-786-4112


Examples of crate labels used to ship Irvine Ranch asparagus and Valencia oranges around the country.
Examples of crate labels used to ship Irvine Ranch asparagus and Valencia oranges around the country.