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History San Jose

Experience living history and culture at a trio of parks

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Think of History San Jose—an extraordinary complex at Kelley Park near downtown San Jose—as the Santa Clara Valley’s memory book in real life. It’s a chance to imagine what life in a small town in the area during the first decade of the 20th century was like before computer chips, gigabytes, and tech startups became the heartbeat of the region. Since 1971, 32 historic buildings have been either been relocated to the park campus from their original locations or are represented by replicas; the result is a living indoor/outdoor museum that showcases the region’s history.

Central to the park is a half-scale replica of the 1881 San Jose Light Tower, which was the world's tallest free-standing iron structure when it was built (the original collapsed in 1915). A tour of the buildings that surround it—from a one-room schoolhouse to a gas station and a former stable—provide a representation of the region’s social, commercial and agricultural history, along with informative exhibits and interactive experiences. Visitors can ride a trolley, and at the recreated print shop, costumed volunteers let kids try out an early printing press.

To ensure that no one historical viewpoint dominates, the park is partnered with 19 organizations, and the result is a fascinating look at the broad range of immigrants who have settled in the region. The Chinese American Historical Museum, the Viet Museum, the African American Heritage House, and the Portuguese Historical Museum all tell their respective communities’ stories, and not just from the early part of the 20th century. The Viet Museum, for example, has extensive exhibits on the Vietnam War and the harrowing journeys made by Vietnamese boat people. That diversity extends to the park’s events, which include lively festivals like the annual Dia de Portugal and the Chinese New Year celebrations.

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