Digging through the archives

April 28, 2009

By Erica S. Maniez

Inventory team sorts through hundreds of museum artifacts

Leslie Fried (left) and Kim Owens, graduate students of the UW Museology Master's Degree Program, label and catalog artifacts from Issaquah's early history. By Greg Farrar

Leslie Fried (left) and Kim Owens, graduate students of the UW Museology Master's Degree Program, label and catalog artifacts from Issaquah's early history. By Greg Farrar

The Issaquah History Museums last month organized a blitz inventory of the Auto Freight Building, where part of the museum collection is stored.

The goal of the inventory project, aside from general housekeeping, was to identify and pack up pertinent artifacts in preparation for a move. The Issaquah History Museums hope to find alternate storage for these items at some point in the next five years. The Auto Freight Building is not climate controlled, and not conducive to preserving artifacts.

The Auto Freight Building was originally constructed in 1939 as a freight warehouse for the Issaquah Auto Freight Co. It was donated to the Issaquah History Museums in 1989 and is currently used for construction and restoration work, as well as storage of collection items that are either too large or too numerous to be stored at the Gilman Town Hall.

Thanks to a grant from 4Culture, the museums were able to hire six interns, all current students or graduates of the University of Washington Museology Master’s Degree Program.

The interns spent what was for most of them spring break working in very cold and grimy conditions, sorting through the contents of 1,000 square feet of storage space. They cataloged 586 artifacts. Roughly 750 other items were evaluated, determined to be unrelated to the history of Issaquah, and set aside for disposal or redistribution to another facility.

Leslie Fried, one of the UW graduate students, said she enjoyed working with the museums’ professionals.

“It was a lot of fun finding out the history behind some of the items we cataloged,” she said. “The detective work was highly entertaining.”

In five days, the students were able to catalog 30 years of archives, Fried said.

One fringe benefit of the inventory work was a series of tasty lunches provided by local merchants. The following businesses donated either part of or the full cost of lunches for the inventory team: Rogue Issaquah Alehouse, Flying Pie Pizza, Front Street Café and the XXX Rootbeer Drive-In.

Learn more about the Issaquah History Museums or the project by calling Director Erica Maniez at 392-3500 or e-mailing info@issaquahhistory.org.

Staff discover a maul in museum inventory

Charles M. Sheafe donated this hand maul in 1910. Contributed

Charles M. Sheafe donated this hand maul in 1910. Contributed

Each year, the Issaquah History Museums accepts hundreds of photographs and artifacts into its collection. In 2007, more than 150 artifacts and photographs were accepted and will be preserved for the benefit of future generations.

Sometimes, donors are surprised to find that, while organizers are pleased to accept artifacts, what they want just as much is the information that goes along with them. They want to know where the artifact came from, who owned it, what they did with it and why it was important.

They need to find out what the object’s story is. There are often cases where the donor of the artifact is unknown, is no longer living or is as lacking in information as museum staff members. In these instances, they have ways of making the objects talk. (Don’t worry, they don’t use torture.) Last year, they pieced together the stories of several artifacts that are now on exhibit at the Gilman Town Hall.

C. M. Sheafe’s flat-top maul

In planning the exhibit In This Valley, staff members aimed to interpret the history of American Indians in the Issaquah area. Unfortunately, there were very few authentic American Indian artifacts in the collection. I contacted the Burke Museum in Seattle to inquire about borrowing  artifacts for the exhibit.

In a review of archaeological artifacts found in the Issaquah area, Burke Archaeology Collections Manager Laura Phillips located a hand maul. They look like large pestles. They were carved from stone, and used like hammers.

As an archaeological artifact, the maul was not impressive. It had a large chunk chipped from the bottom and remnants of very old glue on the surface. In one area, there were remnants of inked paper, suggesting that a collector had created a homemade label for the maul. However, the fact that the maul had a clear link to Issaquah made it an interesting item to include in the upcoming exhibit. It also led me to wonder about the person who collected the maul, and under what circumstances he or she had done so.

The Burke’s records showed that the maul was donated to the Washington State Museum (the Burke’s forerunner) in 1910 by someone named Charles M. Sheafe. Census records, Seattle directories and old publications (among them, “An Illustrated History of the State of Washington” and state legal documents) revealed a great deal of information about the maul’s donor.

Charles Minot Sheafe was a well-known, well-connected and well-to-do member of Seattle society in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Born in New Hampshire, Sheafe started working for railroads at a young age. By the time he came to Seattle in 1886, he had worked as a engineer, conductor, brakeman and fireman. He had also spent a few years working in the mining industry in Colorado.

After Sheafe came to Seattle, he became a trustee and manager of the Puget Sound Construction Company. This was the company that built the first 40 miles of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway. In 1887, Sheafe was also one of the incorporators of the Seattle Coal & Iron Co., an affiliate of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway.

In 1888, Seattle Coal & Iron began mining coal in Issaquah and shipping it by rail. There also exists, in the Issaquah Depot, a photo of Sheafe, among other officials, standing next to the railroad tracks near town.

Museums’ officials don’t know in what capacity Sheafe might have found the hand maul — was it during the construction phase of the railroad? Or perhaps on an official visit to the mines? But they can now picture this turn-of-the-century businessman either finding or (more likely) receiving the hand maul as a curiosity from one of his workers. He then carefully labeled it and saved it for 20 years before donating it to the Washington State Museum.

Nearly 100 years later, museums’ officials are pleased to display the hand maul in its “hometown.”

Reach Museum Director Erica Maniez at info@issaquahhistory.com.

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One Response to “Digging through the archives”

  1. patricia sheafe piggee on December 28th, 2009 9:08 pm

    C.M. Sheafe was my great-grandfather. I have other information, contact me if you’re interested.

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