You can call it the return of Porter Putnam.
An exhibit of Royal Porter Putnam’s belongings is once again on display at the Porterville Historical Museum. The exhibition is visible when the museum opens, including today, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday.
Putnam’s personal belongings also traveled to the museum for an exhibition in 2018, the first time in over 100 years that Putnam’s personal belongings made their way to Porterville.
“The museum really had nothing of Porter Putnam at all,” museum archivist John McWilliams said before the Putnam property returned.
This 2018 exhibit included Putnam’s most prized possession, the Colt Navy 1851 revolver, along with his personal office, a pocket watch, jewelry, silverware, trade papers, photographs, and other personal effects. . All thanks to McWilliams, who came into possession of the objects, thanks to a chance encounter with an adopted descendant of Putnam.
The exhibit from three years ago was “Uncovering Porterville’s Pioneering Past”, which included other aspects of Porterville’s history. The exhibition now at the museum is devoted solely to Putnam.
The genesis of the 2018 exhibit and the exhibit currently at the museum began with McWilliams’ quest to find Putnam’s weapon. The journey that led to Putnam’s many possessions could best be described as an odyssey. “It’s a really interesting story,” McWilliams said of how the exhibitions came about.
McWilliams had searched the vein for Putnam’s weapon for 35 years. “I pretty much gave up on the idea,” McWilliams said of the weapon’s discovery.
But in 2006, McWilliams was in an antique store in Three Rivers and asked if the store had “something from my hometown of Porterville”.
A woman named Noni Summers was listening by chance. When McWilliams told Summers about his interest in the Porterville story, Summers finally told him, “I have the gun,” referring to Putnam’s gun. “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” McWilliams said.
It turns out that Summers’ mother was Earnest Mathy’s second wife whose first wife was Putnam’s granddaughter, Ila Putnam. Summers was therefore called the great-great-granddaughter of Putnam.
Summers agreed to sell the gun to McWilliams. McWilliams asked Porterville historian Bill Horst to determine the value of the gun and Horst determined that the gun was valued at $ 5,000.
So McWilliams and Summers agreed to a deal in which McWilliams would make payments for the weapon. “I had it and the day’s end,” McWilliams said.
At first, Summers was reluctant to tell McWilliams if he had anything else about Putnam, he said. But several years later, Summers came to McWilliams to say, “I have everything.
Among Summers’ possessions were Putnam’s office and a tintype from Putnam from 1858 when he first came to the area, which are also part of the exhibits.
The odyssey of where Putnam’s possessions went ended with Summers. “There is no living descendant of Porterville Putnam,” said McWilliams.
Ila Putnam and Mathy eventually moved to Three Rivers and had Porter Putnam’s belongings there. After Ila Putnam’s death, Mathy inherited Porter Putnam’s property.
Mathy remarried, and Porter Putnam’s estate eventually ended up with his second wife’s daughter, Summers.
McWilliams said Summers had three storage units full of Porter Putnam’s belongings, but ultimately would no longer be able to keep the storage units or personal effects. “They would have been lost to history,” McWilliams said.
But McWilliams and Summers figured out the details he would end up in with Porter Putnam’s possessions. “For me it was just amazing,” McWilliams said. “All the stuff was sitting at Three Rivers.”
And McWilliams said Porter Putnam’s belongings are now in the museum where they belong. “They really shouldn’t be sitting in my house,” he said. “It should be at the Porterville museum.
Regarding how long Porter Putnam’s belongings will remain at the museum, McWilliams said that as far as he is concerned, he is loaning them to the museum indefinitely.
And he also said that as far as he was concerned, the exhibition could also stay in the museum indefinitely.