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Louisiana Clayton Dart’s secret box of court records

Louisiana Clayton Dart, curator of the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum, goes through a box of old county court documents dating back to the 1850s.
Louisiana Clayton Dart, curator of the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum, goes through a box of old county court documents dating back to the 1850s. Telegram-Tribune

The San Luis Obispo History Center is aptly located.

In sight of the front steps is the creek where in 1772 Father Serra dedicated Mission San Luis Obispo.

Vigilantes hung six men from a makeshift gallows next to the Mission in 1858.

The longest continuously operating business in the county, The Tribune, was born in the Murray Adobe in 1869.

The building that houses the History Center began life as the first free library. It is three years older than the Paso Robles Carnegie Library, which is now home of the El Paso de Robles Area Historical Society.

The San Luis Obispo Carnegie Library was dedicated Nov. 9, 1904.

Steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie funded libraries through his foundation. Cities were required to provide land and books, and Carnegie would provide the building.

Architect William H. Weeks designed all of the Carnegie libraries in California. According to the book “Discovering San Luis Obispo County,” the building cost $9,750.

The public library, in 1955, moved to the building that now houses the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.

On Feb. 26, 1956, 60 years ago, what is now the History Center of San Luis Obispo County moved into the Carnegie.

Celebrations are planned to mark the six decades downtown. Visit for more information.

The county historical society had been actively searching for a home since 1950, according to a caption in the May 18, 1956, Centurama edition of the Telegram-Tribune.

The same year the History Museum opened was the 100th anniversary of the the City of San Luis Obispo.

The first curator was Gladys R. Norton, but she was replaced shortly after by Louisiana Clayton Dart.

Previously, Dart was a leader in the Community Concert Association.

They brought Spanish classical guitarist Andres Segovia to play at the San Luis Obispo High School auditorium in 1954 and 1957. Dart had collected Segovia’s autograph, and her husband Leroy cut the legs on a footstool to the guitarist’s specifications for the concerts.

Dart was an energetic booster of what was then called the San Luis Obispo Historical Society.

She was a popular storyteller, and several articles in the Tribune clipping files remember her with affection.

She had her own way of doing things, and that eventually led to friction with the board. She retired after 24 years at the helm.

Louisiana Clayton Dart died June 13, 1995, at the age of 93.

She shared stories of having met Ignace Paderewski, famed Polish pianist and leader, when she was 17.

E.G. Lewis, founder of Atascadero had painted her portrait when she was in her teens. Dart donated the painting to the Atascadero Historical Society.

She was in the right place to rescue a stack of rare documents that dated back to the creation of the county.

A sketch of her personality can be seen in this Telegram-Tribune article from June 11, 1980, by Warren Groshong:

Historical gems a secret for 20 years

The county Historical Museum curator unlocked a secret more than 20 years old today.

She took the wraps off nine cardboard boxes of county court records that date back to 1850, the year California became a state.

“I have kept the records under lock and key and told nobody,” said Louisiana Clayton Dart, “because of a promise I made to the person who gave them to me.”

“I didn’t even tell my husband (who died in 1959),” she said.

The museum curator, who has been at that post since 1956, was the beneficiary of the records because former Superior Court Judge Ray B. Lyon wanted them discarded.

“A man came to me and said, “Could I ask you something in perfect confidence and secrecy?’ ” Dart said.

Judge Lyon had told him, “Get rid of these boxes. I don’t want to see them again. I need the space.”

Dart said, “The man felt it was wicked to destroy the papers.”

“He showed them to me, and I saw how fabulous just the signatures were.”

The man, whom she steadfastly refuses to name, turned them over to her on the condition that she would promise not to make them public until 10 to 20 years after both he and the judge had died.

Judge Lyon died in 1966, but Dart would not reveal the year of death of the donor of the papers for fear someone would figure out his name. He died, she said, sometime before the judge did.

Since that time the documents have been stored in two locked basement rooms of the museum in boxes marked simply “Old Records.”

Dart has the only key to the rooms where the records have been stored. Not even other museum workers or members of the county Historical Society knew about them until today, she said.

“Fabulous,” Dart said as she rummaged through one box this week and found a document with the signature of Romualdo Pacheco on it.

The document, dated April 29, 1854, was the resignation of Albert Mann as the county’s second sheriff. Pacheco’s name was affixed to the bottom of the single sheet of paper as county judge.

That’s a major find for Dart and amateur historians who know that Pacheco was the only governor San Luis Obispo County ever produced.

He served as lieutenant governor and then filled in for nine months of the unexpired term of Gov. Newton Booth in 1875.

Until today, Dart said, the museum didn’t have an actual signature of Pacheco for public perusal.

The documents reveal a report on the condition of public schools in the county in 1871.

The total cost of operating Mission School in San Luis Obispo (not connected with the old Mission) during that eight-month school year, for example, was $2,850. Teacher salaries took $2,200 of that. The school had 300 students, aged 5 to 15 years.

The other 13 schools in the county were Arroyo Grande, Santa Fe, Excelsior, Central, Franklin, Amsted, Mammoth Rock, Santa Rosa, Hesperian, San Simeon, Salinas, San Jose and Hope.

P.A. Forrester was listed as the “county superintendent of common schools.”

Among the thousands of papers is a note that Alexander Murray, at one time San Luis Obispo postmaster, was paid $37.50 for three months service as county school superintendent.

Worthy of attention is the fact that Murray’s claim for $75 was crossed out and below was written the lower figure in pencil.

Murray was the brother of Walter Murray, district judge, founder of the Daily Tribune (actually San Luis Obispo Tribune), and one of the big names in county history.

Still another document found at random in one of the dusty old cartons was the 1854 appointment of Julian Garcia as Jez de Campo, the Spanish name for judge of the plains.

Garcia’s job was to make sure that ranchers were butchering their own cattle and not someone else’s, to generally guard against cattle rustling and to direct the countywide effort to fight fires.

Dart figures the contents of those nine boxes will add a whole new dimension to the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum.