First timers up this route may wonder just what the term “Mile Houses” mean. When gold was discovered on the Fraser River in 1858, the influx of miners made it necessary to establish a short route from Garrison River and Lake up to Lillooet and to historic Barkerville. A wagon road was quickly roughed out to haul equipment and goods to the mines. The Royal Engineers established Lillooet as “Mile 0.” Settlers saw business opportunities and established convenient stopping places along the route. As the traveling was slow in those days, travelers by foot, oxen and horse-drawn freight wagons, could stop for meals or sleep at the conveniently placed “Mile Houses.”
Although the history of this interesting building dates back to 1823, I have chosen to write about what I have gleaned from conversations with three living generations of the Bisbee/Brisbois families, now closely involved with the museum. Hearing from each of them brings this museum into focus as an important part of the agricultural/industrial history of Chesterfield, Massachusetts. Their stories connect, their memories offer clarity and humor, their hopes inspire. The Time Line, so carefully researched by Kathie Brisbois, establishes an unbroken thread spanning nearly 200 years.
There are well over five hundred Pioneer and Heritage Museums across the US, some big, some small, some targeted to a single domain (i.e. homesteading, logging, farming or mining) some like the Yamhill Heritage Center more broadly organized. Most of them have been around a long time and, tragically, many are challenged by lack of volunteer interest and funding. It is very unusual for a region, or town, or county to find the volunteer enthusiasms and the funding to build up a new museum center in these days of baggy pants and plastic wallets.