After getting its start in the 1940’s, the Mesa Historical Museum was incorporated in 1966 by citizens concerned about the preservation of Mesa’s rich history. The museum’s original home was at the old City Hall building in downtown Mesa. This is now the location for the Arizona Museum of Natural History. As the names make clear, the Arizona Museum of Natural History focuses on the natural history of the region (including archaeology and paleontology), while the Mesa Historical Museum is dedicated to the exploring and preserving regional heritage.
The Mesa Historical Museum operates out of the Old Lehi school building. The original Lehi School, built on land donated to the Lehi Settlers by the Rogers family in the 1880s, was a one-room adobe building (similar to the replica in front of the museum). The little community had outgrown the adobe school house by the early 1910’s. The current building was constructed in 1913 and the adobe schoolhouse was demolished. The building was expanded in the 1920’s with the addition of two new classrooms. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the Works Progress Administration made additional improvements, including the addition of the auditorium and annex building. The auditorium was so well constructed that it was designated as the community bomb shelter during the Cold War. The school’s first mechanical cooling system was installed in the main building in the 1950’s.
Many years of improvements were not enough to save the school and it was condemned by the Mesa School District in 1976. Slated for destruction, school officials discovered it would be more expensive to tear down the school buildings, due to the sturdy construction of the auditorium, than rebuild on the site. The City of Mesa purchased the site and resold it to the Mesa Historical Museum in 1986.
Mesa Historical Museum opened its doors to the public in 1987. The Museum originally housed exhibits in both the main building and the auditorium, but the growing collection needs of the museum, along with state and legislative requirements forced the museum to use the auditorium for other purposes, including storage for the ever-growing collections, with hopes to open it up again in the future. The main building and the auditorium were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Improvements and changes have continued as the museum strives to tell the story of Mesa and the valley.