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  • Writer's pictureElsy Hernandez

Steinbeck's County

Our museum is in the small town of King City in Monterey County. Monterey county is home to abundant agriculture, ancient redwoods, and stunning beaches. It was also a great source of inspiration for accomplished writer John Steinbeck.

The infamous colors of the Salinas Valley

Steinbeck was born in Salinas on February 27, 1902. Prior to settling down in Salinas, his father lived in King City during the 1890s where he met Steinbeck’s mother. Steinbeck was raised here in the Salinas Valley – surrounded by rolling hills and colorful crops. Throughout his childhood, he worked various summers at local ranches where he met migrant workers. His experiences at these jobs gave him a better understanding of the harsher realities of life.

The natural beauty of Monterey County allured Steinbeck; however, he was not blind to the less pleasant aspects of the area. One of the reasons that Steinbeck’s writing became so successful and appreciated was his grounded approach. Steinbeck made every setting and person he described feel real. Rather than over-embellishing his writing through picturesque settings and unblemished characters, he wrote earnestly.

Perhaps one of his most famous quotes from Cannery Row perfectly exemplifies this:” Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” This quote transports you right to that historical avenue; you can smell the ocean and fish, you hear the commotion of the busy area, and you feel a part of it all.

Steinbeck often refers to Cannery Row in Monterey, CA

Our exhibits here at MCARLM also help take you away into the past. Our historical King City train depot, just like the rest of our valley, can be linked back to Steinbeck. When Southern Pacific extended their railroad south from Soledad to King City, the novelist’s father was one of the town’s first residents. The railroad was extended for wheat transportation purposes, and its corresponding depot was built in 1903. Though a small town, it was widely mentioned by Steinbeck in many of his novels including Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, and more.

San Lorenzo Park is now home to the original King City train depot

MCARLM offers tours of a preserved farmworker’s house from Spreckels. Spreckels was founded as a company town for the workers at Spreckels Sugar Company – once the largest beet sugar factory in the world. This community is only a few miles from Steinbeck’s birthplace, and his father worked here for various years as a plant manager. Stories told by his father from the factory helped to inspire Steinbeck’s 1935 novel Tortilla Flat.

Just like Steinbeck, our museum values and appreciates the history and life within the Salinas Valley. Visit us to get a better understanding of the area that significantly influenced this novelist.

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