Fresno’s Meux Home
Where the past lives on
BY BRIAN COVERT
The Meux Home Museum sits in contrast against a backdrop of downtown high-rise buildings in the distance and a variety of updated automobiles gathered in congested traffic nearby. Yet the Victorian-style mansion in Fresno looks just as much in place now as when it was built in 1889.
The Home, as it is affectionately known, was once the residence of the prominent Dr. Thomas Richard Meux and his family, and it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975.
“This is just like home,” said June Ellis, the caretaker and only paid full-time employee at the museum. Although she enjoys working at the museum, she admitted that even with the help of 25 other part-time volunteers, it is a job in itself to keep the museum presentable to the public.
“We run around here with a screwdriver in our hands, a hammer, a dust cloth…” she said. “If you see something that’s got to be done, you do it.”
It took more than a mere tidying up in 1973, however, when the city of Fresno, in the wake of public concern over keeping the home despite increasing property redevelopment in the area, decided to purchase the home and solicit community help in restoring it. The five-year restoration venture was successful, and the Meux Home Museum stands today at Tulare and R Streets where it was originally built in the late 1800s.
From a historical perspective, the Home offers a unique combination of both east and west coast heritage: Dr. T.R. Meux (pronounced “mewx”) was born in Wesley, Tenn., in 1838 and graduated at the age of 22 from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1860. Meux served as an assistant surgeon in the Confederate Army for four years during the Civil War.
In June 1874, he married Mary Esther Davis in the city of Brownsville, Tenn., and their three children — John, Mary and Anne — were born there. Due to his wife’s poor health, however, Dr. Meux began thinking about moving the family out west.
Meux’s brother, Joseph, who was living in the Bay Area at that time, suggested the beautiful San Joaquin Valley as a home base. Dr. Meux took his brother’s advice and purchased the property for about $3,000 from the County of Fresno in 1888 — three years after Fresno officially became a city.
It cost Meux an estimated $12,000 to build the house, and once it was built Meux moved his family to Fresno and proceeded to establish a private medical practice in the community. He did so until he retired in his late 70s. He died at the age of 91 in 1929.
The spirit of the turn of the century is kept alive today through original and donated artifacts located throughout the mansion. In its day, the Meux home featured all the comforts of an upper middle-class home and more: Each member of the family, including the housekeeper, had his or her own bedroom upstairs and there was even a “sleeping porch” built with sufficient window ventilation to keep the family cool at night when their own bedrooms failed as retreats from the San Joaquin Valley summer heat.
Although the Home features leisure rooms such as a parlor and family room, the most dominating room of the house seems to be the second-story “master bedroom” where the doctor and his wife slept. On the inside, the room is octagonal in shape with an ornately decorated high ceiling. On the outside, the room is seen as a towering turreted roof that protrudes above the rest of the house like a church steeple. Also, many parts of the Home were done in wall-to-wall carpeting, which was seen as a sign of high-society status.
While on a guided tour through the house, June Ellis reminisced about how life was back in the early part of the century. Although Ellis has only been working at the home for six years, she knowingly held up an artifact that she recognized as one found in many American homes early in the 1900s: an “ice card” with various numbers printed on it, which was hung outside the house to notify the passing iceman how many pounds of ice to unload from his truck to the house.
There are no ice trucks stopping at the Meux home today, and if there were, they would most likely get towed away since there are signs posted on the curb stating, “Stopping of Horses, Carriages and Autos Forbidden.”
The days of horse-drawn carriages may be gone, but the very essence of early American and San Joaquin Valley heritage remains — due to the past and present efforts of those individuals who saw in the Meux home a nostalgic return to a different time and place, and one memory worth keeping around.