The contains a treasure trove of information about the Plateau area. Whether you're looking for details about your own family history or were just curious about what life was like here 100 years ago, this is a prime and very unique resource made available to local residents thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers who devote much time and energy to preserving local history. Ron Tyler, president of the historical society, recently took time out to chat with us about the group's work and some special pieces that are part of the museum's collection.
Let's start with you. Tell us about yourself and your history here in Enumclaw. How did you come to work with the historical society?
I’ve been here 42 or 43 years roughly, and as far as the historical society goes, my wife and I had an interest in antiques for quite some time; when we learned of this organization we decided to join. That was my initial connection. I was one of the charter members for this society back in 1995.
Antique collecting and history are related but don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. You could be an antique collector because you like the craftsmanship of an item that is no longer hand-produced.
They were old things we were interested in, and we were interested in old because they have a history. Everything has some kind of a history to it and for me, it was a logical kind of thing to be involved with a historical society. We also were involved in genealogy and that’s also what this museum does. We involve ourselves in genealogy quite a bit.
So the museum would be a great place to stop for someone who wanted to research their family history in this area.
It would be a good first place to stop. There’s lots of information of course that we do not have. We have information for people and places and things in and around Enumclaw. We have lots of catalogs here that contain clippings from old Courier-Herald newspapers and even some of the predecessors of the Courier-Herald newspaper -- clippings that involve obituaries or family history or local history. There’s many other categories in there. These are all indexed so we can search those through a name or a subject matter. There's just one to a page and they’re very, very useful kind of catalogs to find that. We also have files on some families and individuals that are not in the catalogs but instead are within our filing system here in conjunction with the computer.
Do most of your visitors come in looking for family history?
Most people that come to the museum are not really coming wth a goal in mind other than to see what the musem is and what we have here. Quite a few will come back at a later time because they come back with something specific. There was a lady in here today that was looking for information about relatives of hers; some of those relatives are still alive and will be visiting her later and she was trying to find what information we had about them.
Those individuals she was looking for, we had no information on them directly but we did have some indirect information. For example, she mentioned this person had come back here to Enumclaw in about 1960 and had gone to his one-room schoolhouse, which was telling me that it probably was the Osceola schoolhouse which is still there. It was built in the 1890s; most the rest of the one-room schoolhouses are gone and based on where he was living at the time, he undoubletedly went to that Osceola schoolhouse. So when he comes back this summer, he should be able to go out there and see that old schoolhouse.
As you said, you were one of the charter members of the society. Can you describe what it was like to be a part of an organization that was just starting out?
Well the president of the historical society was here for a relatively short time. She had gotten some things started with regards to the building itself, like getting a local architect to do up some drawings for what needed to be done to the building and getting things started along that way so we could restore the building. It didn’t need too much, but actually the first thing she did was get a grant from King County to acquire the buiding in the first place.
Once that was done and the drawings were approved, the building was moved ahead seven feet and a foundation poured for it. Then we added seven feet on to the back of the building so that we could accommodate a second stairway and an elevator and some other rooms without using up space that would be left for the galleries.
And then I became the president and the members have continued to elect me president ever since.
People must have been excited about the project and must have been really gung ho about moving forward.
Certain aspects were gung ho but there was a tremendous amount of coordination that needed to take place with the contractors, the construction and the timing of all this. It was a slow process. It wasn’t like you had lots of money to go out there and just do this kind of thing. As you might ordinarily expect, a renovation or restoration of a building -- if you had the money -- you could go right ahead and do that.
We didn’t have the money so we had to go ahead and get grants and donations in order to make these things happen, and then work with people to get the work done. A lot of it was volunteer work along with contract work. It was a variety of things.
And prior to the formation of the historical society, there wasn't a designated historical museum in the community, is that right?
The museum was not open here until 2005. So in that 10-year span [since the society was formed], we were upgrading and restoring the building. It didn’t need too much physically but we needed to do certain kinds of [restoration and renovation] things.
In that case, is all of the society's collection things that were gathered from 2005 moving forward?
No, there was some amount of collection that went on before that; things people had donated but they were kept in storage until we could handle it all.
It takes a lot of work to run a historical society. Do you currently work in another occupation as well?
I've been retired for a long time. Most of our board members are retired.
What did you do previously?
I had my own business that I ran out of my own home for some 15 to 20 years in Enumclaw. We were manufacturing instruments for measuring wind. They were used by boaters and commercial buildings as well as lots of indiviauls, and we sold these personally as well as through dealers around the country, in Canada, Australia and other places throughout the world.
It really was a good business to run. We enjoyed doing it and it was a lot of fun. It was just my wife and me primarily but we involved family members and had at times other people come in and provide things for us. We had also work-at-home jobs -- true work-at-home jobs that people could take their work home and bring it back in a certain length of time as a completed job.
And it was all local. Our retail customers were usually telephone or mail order but operations was all here -- actually it was in my garage. At one time, we were the largest producer of wind measuring instruments in the country.
What was it called?
Tradewind Instrument Company – not to be confused with others that had a like or similar name. There was a company down in the Los Angeles area that had that same name.
I had worked with an associate that lived in Seattle and when he passed away, I bought out his share of the business and continued on here. I quit my job at the Boeing Company and carried on here. I had been at Boeing for almost 25 years in the graphic arts.
So how long have you now officially been retired?
It's been about 20 years now I guess, roughly.
Do you consider yourself a history buff?
For Enumclaw history, yes. I’m not as aware of some of the things as a couple other people are but their interests are a little different. Mine is kind of an all-encompassing interest -- not only for people but also for things and places and so on. I do my best. I learn from scratch. And try to be as much help as I can to people.
Having visited museums around the country, my feeling has always been to know what you’re looking at and sometimes that takes a little research because when something comes through the door being donated to us, they may not have very much information, yet we know it’s something that’s important and so it may take some research to find out a little more about that item.
Is there one thing you can identify in the museum that you personally find most interesting?
Well, not any one particular item but a particular grouping. We received the majority of the belongings of a lady that was in her 90s when she passed away and she’d always lived with her grandparents, who were Enumclaw pioneers.
There were some very exquisite things from her estate and they mean a lot to us because there was so many of them but some of them were in remarkable shape and they represented things from her grandarents as well as all of her life too.
A few of those things were restored before they were given to us, like some of the furniture we have – the Victorian furniture had some restoration on the fabrics part of it. And that old desk up there had a little bit of restoration work – mostly cleaning. We have that huge silk quilt over here made from the old cigar bands -- bands that went around a handful of cigars just to keep them together. Those oftentimes were thrown away and yet her grandparents had a large store and kept those ribbons when people would throw them away, and they were collected and hand-stitched into this beautiful very, very large bright yellow quilt and they’re marvelous.
We have a quilt over there that also has beautiful hand-stitching. It’s so perfect it looks like it was done by a machine and it as ribbons from the Enumclaw Fair here dating back to 1900. They’re old things but they’re beautiful things. This lady’s grandmother was a beautiful seamstress. We have a lot of it in storage here too of her handiwork, clothing, quilts -- marvelous and very rich kinds of things.
The history of things we have here in the museum run the gamut. I mentioned that one only because it was the largest grouping of things we had received, and it got the museum off to a really good start from that standpoint.
Do you ever feel tempted to want to put out everything you have in your collection?
It’s not a goal to have everything on display. If I did that it would be a mishmash of things. It wouldn’t be practical way of doing it. Almost any museum you go into has things stored away because they can’t show them all at once or they may not fit a particular cartegory of things they’re displaying.
In the way that we’re doing this museum, we display things for the most part by category. We’re getting ready to set up a display in one of our cabinets of things related to the kitchen – kitchens of old times. And so it’s going to be a great variety of things in there, not all strictly kitchen items but a lot of things went on in kitchens that don’t happen in kitchens anywmore.
Just as a couple of examples, we have a small apron made specifically to hold old clothespins. Some of the old clothespins can date back to 1897 where you could buy 5 gross of those through the Sears Roebuck catalog for 50 cents. That’s 50 cents for 720 of those which amounts to 7/10000 of a penny a piece. Those are things that took place in the kitchen because you washed your clothes over a wood stove -- you heated the water on the boiler on the stove. We have an old tea kettle from about that time period too. We have a great number of other things that are going to be added into that collection.
To visit a museum, you're looking at things -- not necessarily real, real old things but things that could spark your remembrance. 'Oh I remember when I had that or when grandma had that or grandpa used to do this kind of activity.' That’s what those – a lot of those displays are for.
It sounds then like from a visitor's perspective, just because you've seen the museum once, it doesn't mean the collection is static. You're changing things up all the time.
That’s true. We do add things to the cases as we go along or change displays. But setting up a display takes quite a bit of time to do. To pull those things for the display and prepare the signage for each of the items in there and then to actually physically set up the display itself, it takes quite a bit of time and we don’t involve too many people at one time to do that kind of thing. It’s going to incorporate a few hours to do that. And everyone is a volunteer. No one is paid, aside from our contract work related to construction and maintenance.
You've been re-elected many times as president, but really -- do you like being president?
I do. I do. Although there are days...(laughing)