Beatty Museum: the comfort of small museums

During our spring trip to Death Valley, we drove up to the small town of Beatty, Nevada, just east of the national park. There, we visited the Beatty Museum and Historical Society.

The main mission of the museum is to preserve the mining heritage of the region. Which sounds dry, but in reality it’s a charming and informative place, chock-full of artifacts of daily life and work in the desert from the mid-19th century through the end of the 20th. The original building once served as a church, and the jumble of objects looks homey and inviting in there, rather than cluttered.

A few years ago, the collection outgrew the original space, and another small building was added on.

In many ways a typical small-town museum, run on a shoestring budget by dedicated (mostly unpaid) staff, the Beatty Museum turns out to be surprisingly comfortable. Its small size works to advantage: there are no problems with orientation, wayfinding, or fatigue, and you can take in a good deal of the space in one glance.

Grandma’s attic? In some ways – but a clean, organized attic, with good lighting and wide walkways. The staff has done a good job of organizing all this stuff — mostly received through donations from interested residents — into thematic sections. 

Our visit reminded me how enjoyable a well-run small museum can be. We came away with a real sense of what life must have been like in the Mojave when mining was the main engine of the economy and life depended upon the railroad.

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