The town of Los Altos was founded in 1906 by Paul Shoup an executive of Southern Pacific railroad who had big ideas and projects for the new town. Paul Shoup and his companions formed a company called Los Altos & Co, which then bought 140 acres of land from Sarah Winchester to further extend the rails. Originally the town functioned as an agricultural community, specifically with apricots. In fact, Los Altos was the world's top producing centers at its time; however after World War II the growing suburban population curved the growth of orchards.  After growth from 1950-1980, Los Altos is now a high-tech hub and diverse community right in the heart of Silicon Valley. The Los Altos History Museum is the main historical landmark in the town which represents the changes over the years. 

The mission of the museum is as follows: “The Los Altos History Museum gathers and presents compelling stories and artifacts that bridge the past and the present by fostering the creative energy of staff and volunteers to challenge established narratives and produce engaging educational programs and exhibits for the community.”  The museum does a great job representing all the major events in the history of Los Altos from 1906-present day. All of which can be found in the three exhibits on the museum property.

The history museum opened in the Spring of 2001, and it currently occupies 8,200 square feet of property owned by the city of Los Altos. The main house on the property, built in 1905, was refurbished as a 1930’s farmhouse, which still stands today.

There are three main exhibits that are permanent on the museums property, The Crown of the Peninsula, J. Gilbert Smith House , and Agricultural Exhibit & Grounds. Although, the Museum does house many temporary exhibits as well.

Crown of the Peninsula

Is the main exhibit on the property which houses the history of the railroads, WWII, Native Americans and more. The Railroad system in the museum is an exact replica of what was once in Los Altos. (now known as Foothill expressway). The Crown of the Peninsula exhibit explains what the early californians life would have been like, socially, economically, and politically. This exhibits aims to teach children the history of Los Altos through animated experience. For example, there is an audio recording someone impersonating Paul Shoup and describing where he got his ideas for the railroad. There are many propaganda posters which hang in the museum from WWII. In adittion there is an Abalony Native american which has reaal bowls and gathering tools that they once used.

J. Gilbert Smith House

J.Gilbert Smith was an Oregon native who relocated to Los Altos to build his Victorian farm style home which accommodated his apricot orchard. J.Gilbert Smith and his wife “ lived in the home from 1901 until 1973. In 1954 the City of Los Altos purchased the property, including the house and the 10.44 acres of apricot orchards as the site for the Civic Center with the Smith's retaining lifetime residency of the house and a surrounding acre. Upon Mrs. Smith's death in 1973, the home and one acre reverted to the City.”  This house which also hosts an art gallery was designated a local Historical Landmark and a California State Point of Historical Interest in 1987. The exhibit includes a parlor with an antique piano, a furnished kitchen, and many other well maintained rooms. Touring the house requires a docent guide.

Agricultural Exhibit & Grounds

The grounds that surround the Smith house and the crown of the peninsula is known the be the agricultural exhibit. This exhibit includes a huge sulfur drying shed which is where the apricots would get dried. Next to the shed is the barn which houses a refurbished tractor, one like Mr. Smith used to use in his apricot orchards. The Barn also houses many antique farm machines and equipment. Along the outside grounds include a three-hole outhouse and a 1915 tank house. The outside grounds are well maintained  by museum staff. In addition, the outside grounds house a lot of events and weddings.

There are two upcoming exhibits To the Los Altos History Museum. The first is “Superstitions” which starts on October 4th through November 4th. The Museum will get into the Halloween spirit with nightly tours of the Smith home. The tour will go in depth about superstitions and traditions of mourning and death in an Victorian style home, specifically the Smith family. The second upcoming exhibit will be, “Inspired by Juana” which will begin on October 18th all the way until March 31st. Inspired by Juana is  “The story of Juana Briones is a tale of resilience, ingenuity and business savvy – the hallmarks of Silicon Valley. Juana Briones was a dynamic 19th century figure who owned several businesses, many parcels of land, was a talented business woman, traditional healer and advocate for her family in what is now Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto, San Jose, and San Francisco.” The museum always has temporary exhibits which go along with the time of year or currents event in the world, which help educate more and more people. Currently the museum has a new exhibit which started on July 5th, called Paint the Town II. Pain the Town II will run all the way until October 5th to showcase local artwork.

The Los Altos History Museum is very important to the towns development and restoring all the history throughout. Having such an educational museum in a hometown helps people further understand there roots and or what the land they are living on was like way back when. The Los Altos History Museum is the only Museum in Los Altos which captures every era the town has gone through, whether is be from the early railroads to the rise of Silicon Valley.

Having such a prosperous and educational museum like the Los Altos History Museum is very important to keep traditions alive and educate our youth.