Museum displays area’s juicy culture

Kristine Delgadillo
Staff Writer

The city of Covina displayed its rich citrus history in The Firehouse Jail Museum to preserve the historical events that occurred in the early 20th century and to educate current and future generations.

The two-room museum at Covina City Hall is filled with documents and artifacts from the orange industry like city contracts and smudge pots, which are portable heaters that were used to prevent oranges from freezing during the winter.

“We have so many photos and artifacts that we don’t have enough room for them all,” said Bob Ihsen, president of the of the Covina Valley Historical Society.

The museum also has common household items from the early 1900s, such as a laundry wringer and post office supplies.

Inside the museum is a single jail cell still intact that serves as one of the museum’s artifacts.

“The third graders that come every week absolutely love the jail cell,” said Ihsen.

“The teachers and parents even enjoy it so much they want to leave their kids in there for a while.”

Covina was founded in 1886 by Joseph Phillips as 2,000 acres of empty land. Other investors later brought water to the town and made the land fertile for citrus growing.

The cities surrounding Covina that made up the San Gabriel Valley eventually became the largest exporters of oranges, and at one time grew more oranges then anywhere else.

“Without the orange industry, the railroad wouldn’t have passed through all those years ago,” said Fred Feldhein, publicity chair of the Covina Valley’s Historical Society.

“The train just didn’t stop anywhere, so Covina was a very significant city. Without the oranges, we would just be a small spot on a map.”

The Covina Valley Historical Society was formed in 1969 to help preserve the history, and they formed the Firehouse Jail Museum to facilitate this goal.

The Firehouse Jail Museum was originally the city’s fire station from 1911. Adjacent to it was the city’s police department, which was connected in 1979 to form one building.

The museum is run by the Covina Valley Historical Society, and thrives on adult and student volunteers.

Volunteer Sally Markey is in charge of helping the third grade classes who come to the museum. Markey’s main responsibilities are to explain the time capsule, which is opened and added to every 100 years, and the laundry and kitchen demonstrations from the early 1900s.

“This city is great because of the teamwork and community that was put into it,” said Markey. “The orange growing allowed everyone to pitch in and make Covina the most successful citrus industry.”

However, not many of Covina’s citizens or residents from neighboring cities are aware of the history behind the citrus growing in the surrounding areas.

“It’s very important to know about the city’s history because everyone should know how the city came to be so successful,” Feldhein said. “I feel very bad because of all the years the Historical Society and the museum have existed, we are still unknown.”

Kristine Delgadillo can be reached at

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