Ainsley House

Historic Downtown Campbell: Part 2 of 2. Start with the Campbell Historical Museum, then come read about the Ainsley House.

front of Ainsley House

The Ainsley House is the historical home of Mr. John Colpitts Ainsley’s family. He was one of the businessmen who put Campbell on the map through his successful fruit cannery. When you tour, the docent will share with you about the Ainsley family, California life in the early 1900s, the mixed architectural styles of the house, and the innovative technologies (innovative for their day, that is) incorporated into its design. You’ll walk through all the rooms with your docent and then get to explore the surrounding gardens on your own.

large white daisies with yellow centers

In a Nutshell

As you learned at the Campbell Historical Museum, Campbell’s fruit orchards and canneries were a huge industry in this area for a long time. Mr. Ainsley owned one of those canneries. He was born in England and moved to California at age 26. He wasn’t born wealthy, but he did see the potential to build on the existing apricot farms in this area, so he started a cannery company and became very successful. He built this house for his family later in life and lived here until he passed away in 1937. His children eventually donated the house to the City of Campbell as an historical site. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places.

oak-paneled entry hall in Ainsley House

This house has many interesting architectural features and details. It also showcases “newfangled” things we take for granted today, such as an electric refrigerator or an upstairs telephone. On this guided tour of the home, you’ll learn about all of these ideas and about a family’s lifestyle in that era. Keep your eyes open for the magic button in the dining room…

Believe it or not, the house was not always on this site! It was originally built where eBay’s main campus is today. In the 1990s, it was literally picked up and trucked more than a mile to the city park land where it sits today. Wow! We were actually lucky enough to see the move happen. (I was very little but I still remember it.) When you visit, you’ll get to see a short video of the move before touring the house. It’s amazing!

Location

The Ainsley House is located at 300 Grant St. in Campbell. It’s adjacent to the Campbell Public Library and City Hall. It’s about a block and a half over from the main Campbell Avenue corridor in Downtown Campbell, and not far from the Hamilton Ave. exit from Hwy 17.

Google map of the Ainsley House area in Campbell

The Ainsley House is about half a block from the Campbell Historical Museum. You can see one from the other, but you’ll probably have to move your car to do both in one day because the museum parking is limited to 2 hours total. For the Ainsley House, you’ll park in the lot next to the Campbell Public Library. They have disabled spots in that lot in the corner closest to the Ainsley House, so you’re not limited to the spots by the library entrance.

diagram map of Campbell Historical Museum and Ainsley House's relative locations

The closest public transit is the VTA Bus Route 26‘s Civic Center stop or the VTA Light Rail‘s Downtown Campbell station on the 902 Winchester line.

Downtown Campbell is very bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, so if you prefer, you can always choose to bike or walk here to avoid the parking drama altogether. 

When you arrive, the sidewalks and the house’s grandeur will naturally lead you to the front door, but follow the signs from there to the carriage house where you buy tickets. Inside the carriage house, you’ll watch about a 5-minute intro video and then meet your docent, who will take you through the main house.

Carriage house visitor center

Weather

The house has been retrofitted with central heating and air conditioning, so you can plan your visit any time of year.

In the spring and summer, the gardens around the house are particularly photogenic. They actually do weddings here because the space is so beautiful, so be sure to bring your camera!

beautiful pink flower

Cost

When we visited (summer 2019), the Ainsley House tickets were $8 for the general public, $6 for seniors, and $4 for youth ages 7-17. Children 6 and under were free. If you purchase a joint ticket with this and the Campbell Historical Museum, you can save $1 per person over purchasing the tickets separately.

bedroom in Ainsley House

There are also membership options as described in our Campbell Historical Museum post:

If you want unlimited access to the museum and the Ainsley House, a quarterly newsletter, gift shop discounts, and free or discounted admission to museum events, memberships are available for $35 per person. Expanded benefits are available with fancier levels of membership.

Both this museum and the Ainsley House are part of the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association. This means you can get  free or discounted admission to these and many other museums around the continent if you have a membership at one of them. You can search the full list here.

Length of Time

The tour is led by a docent, so the length of time can range from 30 minutes to easily over an hour, depending on the level of detail they share and the number of questions you ask. Combined with the Campbell Historical Museum, allow 2.5 to 4 hours total.

kitchen

Wheelchair Access

Their website has information for guests with disabilities. The house was built in 1925, so there isn’t much they can do to make it wheelchair-friendly, unfortunately. The main floor of the carriage house (which serves as the visitor’s center and gift shop) is wheelchair-accessible. An accessible restroom is included in that building too.

The Ainsley House itself is two stories, but even the first floor has single stairs up and down from individual rooms. About half the rooms on the first floor are wheelchair-accessible via ramps. The tour involves only short-distance walking, but a lot of stairs and lot of standing. They do have folding chairs available if you need to sit while the docent speaks, but you move between rooms so often that you don’t sit for more than a minute or two in each place. For someone with mobility problems, this house is honestly very difficult. (That’s not their fault at all, they do their very best to accommodate, but the house was built more than 60 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. What can you do?)

oak stairs

Walkers are allowed, so my mom tried using her walker instead of the wheelchair. It was really tough, honestly. The docent was excellent about making sure to point out the steps and offering to help her up and down the steps if needed. She even offered to carry the walker upstairs if that would help. By the end of the hour-long tour, though, even with sitting in each room as the docent spoke, it was obvious that this was too much walking and standing. Time for Advil and resting the rest of the day. Everyone has their own threshold for when to be stubborn about not missing out on something and when to take care of their health, so of course it’s up to you. Just be aware that this tour involves more standing and walking than it seems like a “house tour” might, so please be gentle with your body if you have mobility issues.

Official service animals are allowed, but emotional support animals are not.

Vision & Hearing

Mrs. Ainsley's desk

The docent narrates the whole tour, so guests could still get a lot out of the visit without seeing the architecture and artifacts directly. There are also recorded sound effects that play in a few of the rooms. If someone in your party has a sight limitation, you can even arrange a “touch tour” to further enhance your experience if you call in advance. (This is such an unusual offering, I have to give them kudos!)

Guests who are deaf would probably need a family member to serve as a sign language interpreter. Tour groups are usually small (often just your family), so if you have limited hearing, you could ask the docent to speak loudly and could turn your hearing aids up. The house is quiet enough for this to work.

garden

Sensory Processing

As you might expect for an historical home, the sensory level here was nicely low overall. One very unusual feature was that a few of the rooms had sound effects set up on motion sensors so they played automatically when you entered the room. (For example, a recording of FDR on the radio would play when you entered the library, or cooking and chopping noises would greet you in the kitchen.) These were not loud, but I found them a bit distracting as I tried to focus on the docent’s words at the same time. Still, this is the only place I’ve encountered such a simple but unusual idea — motion-triggered ambient sounds to enhance the experience — and I thought it was extremely clever.

garden

Food

There’s no food or drink allowed on the house tour. There are plenty of benches in the green park area in front of the house for eating before or after your visit.

Would we go back?

Sure! Even though we saw the house move (because everyone around came to see such an unusual event) in the 1990s, we had somehow never come to tour the inside of the house after that. I’m glad we did and would be happy to do so again some day. If you want to put a more personal face on all the cool stuff you learn at the Campbell Historical Museum, wander over to Ainsley House too. It’s sure to make you smile!

Ainsley House as seen from the side

Campbell Historical Museum

Historic Downtown Campbell: Part 1 of 2. Stay tuned for the Ainsley House visit next time!

The Campbell Historical Museum is a surprising little gem located in the heart of Downtown Campbell. Although we both grew up in this area and even lived in Campbell briefly, we’d somehow never been here. It was definitely worth the visit. We had no idea the City of Campbell had been so important to the history of this valley!

Campbell Historical Museum official sign and front of the building

In a Nutshell

This unimposing little building was actually the first city-owned building when Campbell was incorporated as a city back in 1952. It was the fire station, police station, and city hall — all at once! As the city grew, naturally its services spread out. By 1983, the main services had moved elsewhere, and this building became the Campbell Historical Museum.

Museum dedication plaque from the Campbell City Council

The museum includes a variety of interactive stations, video segments, timelines, and artifacts to connect the valley’s history to today. There are hands-on opportunities and well-written plaques for children and adults to engage with the subject matter in their own ways.

pretend "general store" inside the Campbell Historical Museum

The details of their current exhibits are on this page. You’ll learn about the evolution “from canneries to computers,” tracing Campbell’s history from its origins in orchards and canned fruit to its role in Silicon Valley today and putting it in context with national and world historical events at the time. Many important innovations happened here long before the microprocessor was invented. Did you know President Roosevelt even came to visit once?

timeline called "Campbell in Context," detailing the history of Campbell in parallel to world history

Note: The museum and the Ainsley House are “sister museums” to each other; both are technically independent so you can visit either or both. We highly recommend starting here at the Campbell Historical Museum and then visiting the Ainsley House. The house will make much more sense if you have the context offered in the museum first.

Location

This museum is located at 51 N. Central Ave. in Campbell, on the corner of N. Central and Civic Center Dr. It’s kitty-corner from the Campbell Public Library and one block over from the main downtown shopping and restaurant district on Campbell Ave. If you’re coming from farther away, it’s fairly close to the Hamilton Ave. exit from Hwy 17.

Google map of Campbell Historical Museum area

Parking is always tight in Downtown Campbell. There is a small lot connected to the museum, but you enter it from the other side of the block: turn on N. 1st Street and go in the driveway behind Recycle Bookstore West and Sorelle Salon & Spa. Take the first left inside the parking lot (between the two tiny fences into the second half of the lot) and then turn right to get closer to the museum. The museum is the tall unmarked building at the end of the lot. Park in any unmarked slot. (The first slots you see will be reserved for the bookstore or salon, so be careful. Go deeper into the lot to look for 2-hour parking that’s not restricted to a particular store or reserved for staff.)

Zoomed-in Google map showing arrows of where to park

Parking lot for Campbell Historical Museum

There is also some on-street metered parking on Civic Center Dr. If you don’t mind walking, you can park elsewhere in town and walk in. (Just be respectful of time limits anywhere you park, because Campbell does mean business in their traffic enforcement.)

Although the address and front sign say N. Central Avenue, the entrance is actually accessed from this parking lot, so walk around the building to the back if your GPS takes you to the official front on N. Central.

Very zoomed-in Google map showing the actual front entrance vs. the street address

The closest public transit is the VTA Bus Route 26‘s Civic Center stop or the VTA Light Rail‘s Downtown Campbell station on the 902 Winchester line.

Downtown Campbell is very bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, so if you prefer, you can always choose to bike or walk here to avoid the parking drama altogether. 

Weather

Thankfully this historical building has been upgraded with modern HVAC, so you can enjoy this little museum anytime of year.

old-fashioned hand-washer and dryer press with pretend laundry

Cost

When we visited (summer 2019), the museum admission was just $2 for anyone age 7+. If you want a joint ticket for the museum + the Ainsley House, it essentially saves you $1 over buying the two admissions separately. (We didn’t get the joint ticket, but did happen to find a $1 off coupon on an Ainsley House flyer, so it worked out the same.) The joint ticket does not have to be used on the same day.

child's wagon with pretend fruit and cardboard cut-outs of children in an orchard

If you want unlimited access to the museum and the Ainsley House, a quarterly newsletter, gift shop discounts, and free or discounted admission to museum events, memberships are available for $35 per person. Expanded benefits are available with fancier levels of membership.

Both this museum and the Ainsley House are part of the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association. This means you can get  free or discounted admission to these and many other museums around the continent if you have a membership at one of them. You can search the full list here.

Length of Time

Given the relatively small size of this museum, it’s mind-boggling to think of it once housing the fire department, police department, and city government! The museum will take you about 1-2 hours.

If you’re doing both in one day, plan for the Ainsley House to take an additional 1-2 hours. You can ask the volunteers at the museum desk what time the next Ainsley House tour leaves so you can plan accordingly. If possible, do the full museum before going to Ainsley House.

Carriage with picture of Teddy Roosevelt

Wheelchair Access

Physically, the museum was spacious enough and flat enough to navigate easily with the wheelchair. However, most of the displays were surprisingly high up on the walls, so it was tricky to read some of them comfortably from a seated height.

Vision & Hearing

There were more hands-on and audio elements here than at most museums, so someone with limited vision would be able to interact quite a bit. For example, there were plastic fruits on Velcro dots to be “picked” off the “orchard” trees, rubber fruits to be “packed” into the tin cans, and a guessing game with food scents inside metal shakers. There were also narrated video clips and an audio recording of someone reading President Roosevelt’s speech, plus an interactive play space with pretend foods. Unfortunately there is no braille or audio tour of the other material, so a companion would still have to read the text of the main plaques out loud.

guessing game with shakers with scents inside

The video and audio clips had subtitles, so someone with a hearing impairment would be able to participate fully here. There’s little to no background noise to interfere with hearing aids on a regular day. (I’d imagine if an entire class were here for a field trip, that might change.)

Sensory Processing

This was a delightfully calm museum in terms of sensory content. The lighting was normal, the background noise was minimal, and that scent game mentioned above was not noticeable unless you held the shakers to your nose. The displays were visually a little busy in places, but not overwhelmingly so. Particularly for the level of interaction it offered, I found this to be one of the more sensory-friendly museums we’ve visited.

Old electric vehicle

Food

There’s no food or drink allowed inside the museum, but there are picnic areas available outside. Of course the entire restaurant district in Downtown Campbell is also only a block away!

Would we go back?

Sure! We both learned a ton about the legacy of a town that we’d honestly always thought of as just a cute little offshoot of San Jose. It turns out Campbell was once the home to three major fruit canneries that shipped fruit all the way to England. The Pruneyard Shopping Center was even part of a major Supreme Court decision on free speech and states’ rights. Who knew? If you need a short but very interesting spot to visit, the Campbell Historical Museum is sure to make you smile!

sign says "museum & store open Thurs-Sun 12-4 pm"