Wheel from the steamer Petaluma is part of the Petaluma History Museum's collection. (Jeff Kan Lee / Press Democrat)

By SHELDON BERMONT / Petaluma Towns Correspondent

Unlike the internationally branded Smithsonian in Washington D.C, The Petaluma Historical Library & Museum doesn’t have a massive budget for marketing campaigns or expensive radio/TV spots.

Even so, the 20,000 visitors who came through its doors last year got a look at treasures from its permanent collections that vividly showcase Petaluma’s life story.

Among the items that have garnered the most interest since the 1904 neo-classic landmark changed its use from library to museum in 1978 are these 10. They were chosen by Joe Noriel, president of the Petaluma Association.

1. Stained-glass dome.

The museum building has the largest free-standing dome west of the Mississippi. Painstaking construction started in 1904 and was completed in 1908. It combines the detailed beauty of an antique Tiffany lamp with the stately grandeur of ceilings designed for public buildings in far-bigger metropolitan hubs.

2. Automatic egg cleaner.

A nearly seven-foot-long automatic egg cleaner proves there was “hi-tech” long before Silicon Valley farmland turned into micro-chip land. This relic from Petaluma’s “World’s Egg Basket” days replaced the process used by chicken-farm workers to hand wash and brush each individual egg. It was phased out by 1950 as mass-production methodologies began to define the industry.

3. 1800s kitchen.

On the museum’s second floor there’s two mini-wall’s worth of an authentic 1800s kitchen, complete with an old style hand water pump now perched on top of the decidedly non-granite counter top. The scene calls to mind a much slower life-style, centered around the hearth and home cooking.

4. Boat wheel from “The Petaluma.”

Beneath a black and white photo of the Petaluma River stands the original boat wheel from “The Petaluma,” a steamer-class, paddle boat. It was donated by artifact collector Ed Mannion. Originally named “The Resolute,” The Petaluma transported passengers up and down the now quiet river until 1935.

5. Native American basket collection.

These stellar examples of Pomo, Washoe, Hupa/Karuk and Makah craftsmanship have been collected over time, but Staff Archivist Lisle Lee says that adding to the small but impressive group is on the museum’s “to do” list.

6. Handmade playground carousel.

Teresa Froschl, museum curator and 30-year staff member, is especially proud of a handmade playground carousel from The Pepper School, an experimental elementary school that was built in 1893 and torn down in 1960. The old-world craftsmanship is the star of this show. Plans are in the works for a complete restoration.

7. Antique horse-drawn wagon.

Fifteen years ago, the museum acquired this wagon with an eye toward making it the centerpiece for a section still being designed that will treat patrons to a realistic vision of farming life, “back in the day.” It came from the Farrell Family, original owners of the River House.

8. Floorless chicken coop.

From the Paul Martin Ranch on Bodega Highway, this “Colony House” floorless chicken coop allowed the farmer to hitch up his tractor to the roughly 8’x5’ structure and drag it to another spot on the farm – kind of a motor-home for chickens but without tires.

9. Photo Library.

A fire flared up on Washington St., between Keokuk and Liberty, in 1955, and one live-action photo shows the Petaluma Auto Body Shop engulfed in flames. It’s one of thousands in the Photo Library that have frozen priceless moments from Petaluma’s rich history.

10. Historic Map Collection.

A 1930 bird’s-eye view of Petaluma’s one-square-mile downtown shows the old streetcar barn, the Petaluma and Santa Rosa electric railroad line, and the Northwestern-Pacific line, now designated for the upcoming SMART train. It’s part of the Historic Map Collection compiled and published by Conner & Sons that never ceases to hook first-time museum visitors.

(See more photos of museum exhibits)

The museum stands tall on the corner of 4th and B Streets, downtown. The hours are Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 778-4398 or visit petalumamuseum.com.