Hannah Clayborn



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Hannah Clayborn was born in the Mills College area of Oakland in 1954.  Her father died when she was seven, and by the late 1960’s her widowed mother was looking for a safer place for her seven children.  She relocated the family in 1970 to Bloomfield in western Sonoma County.  At that time Bloomfield was a tiny hamlet of 200 on the road from Petaluma to Bodega Bay.

Hannah’s interest in history began in the Bloomfield cemetery, at that time a windswept hilltop surrounded by century old cypress trees and a view out to Valley Ford and beyond. . "I used to sneak up to the cemetery to smoke cigarettes," she said in a 1999 interview[1]. "It was a beautiful place to sit.” She started reading the headstones and noticed how many young children had died and how all the members of some families had died within days of each other.

"This intrigued me," she smiled, “My smoking habit got me into history." For a college project, she wrote the history of Bloomfield.  A book resulted:  Dirt Roads and Dusty Tales, A Bicentennial History of Bloomfield.[2] , first published in 1976 and still in print..  Although she finally quit smoking, she has never kicked the history habit.

"The main street was just like in the cowboy movies," she said. Once a stagecoach stop where tired horses would be exchanged for fresh ones, Bloomfield withered when it was bypassed by the railroad.

Hannah graduated from Tomales High School on Tomales Bay.  After graduating from Sonoma State University with a bachelor's degree in psychology and distinction and honors in anthropology, Clayborn took a job with California State Parks cataloging and photographing the collection at Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen.  She went on to do the same at the Petaluma Adobe and the Toscano Hotel in Sonoma.

Hannah worked continuously in history museums in California from 1977 to 2000. She also returned to Sonoma State during the 1980’s to complete her M.A. in History.  After working in the State Historic Museums mentioned above, she was hired as Curator, and then Director of the Healdsburg Museum, Edwin Langhart Founder, from 1979 to 1993.  She then served as Director of the Novato History Museum from 1994 to 1998, and Executive Director at the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto, from 1998 until 2000, when the family moved to Walnut Creek.

The moves to the South and East Bay facilitated the evolving career of her husband, John Howland, a commercial architect.  Hannah and John met in 1985 while Hannah was serving on the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa.  John was designing the first interior and displays for that museum.  They married in 1987.

During the thirteen years that Hannah spent as Director of the Healdsburg Museum she was responsible for all of its activities, exhibits, research, archives, special events, fundraising and the care and documentation of the collections.  She also served as editor of the Russian River Recorder for most of that time.  Founded by former Healdsburg City Manager, Edwin Langhart in 1976, the Healdsburg Museum went from a small facility on Matheson Street, to a fully restored and renovated Carnegie Library Building, which it currently occupies.  This move was facilitated by a successful fundraising drive in the late 1980’s, which raised over $500,000 locally for that project.  The size of the artifact collection during those years also grew along with the reputation of the museum.

A museum publication sponsored by the California Historical Society said of it in 1992:  “From a charming, homegrown institution, the Healdsburg Museum has developed over the past decade into one of the finest regional history museums in California.  Its high level of professionalism is a real joy.”[3]  Among the projects completed during those years was the Healdsburg Cultural Resource Survey, (1983) which documented over 1,000 historic properties in and around Healdsburg and the original publication, Historic Homes of Healdsburg, (1984).  But when asked about her favorite work at the museum, Clayborn cited designing and leading tours for the local elementary schools and helping visitors to use the extensive museum archives to find information about their homes or their ancestors.

Hannah and her husband, John Howland, now live in Walnut Creek with their daughters, Cleone, born in 1991, and Cyrene, born in 1996.  They are also building a home at Timbercove, near Fort Ross, in Sonoma County.  Hannah is currently developing a regional history program for a private school in Walnut Creek and has been writing short stories since 2001.


Hannah can be contacted by Email: HannahClayborn@cs.com



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[1] Elizabeth Lorenz  Palo Alto Weekly, Feb 24, 1999

[2] Dirt Roads and Dusty Tales, A Bicentennial History of Bloomfield (Cleone Publishing Company, Santa Rosa: 1976) The book can be purchased from the Sonoma County Historical Society website: http://www.sonomacountyhistory.org/publications.htm

[3] Charlene Akers, Open to the Public, a Guide to the Museums of Northern California (Heyday Books/California Historical Society: Berkeley) c. 1994, p. 274.