A bell’s history is discovered
February 23, 2010
Above the concrete floor of the Auto Freight Building, where the American Indian trade knife profiled earlier was found, is where the Issaquah History Museums have stored large artifacts for the past 20 years.
Among these are the Peltola Sleigh, the original Issaquah Volunteer Fire Department Hose Cart, and a variety of large logging and railroad artifacts. Most of the items’ rich histories have been documented, and can be matched up to the artifacts through our artifact numbering system.
But during the years when the historical society was low on volunteers and without staff, pieces of history were stored in the building without being numbered, labeled or documented. The history of a number of these artifacts are still being researched.One such piece was an old bell, selected by museum staff to be part of the Gilman Town Hall exhibit “In This Valley.”
Bells were commonly used on farms or in logging camps — anyplace where people were apt to be working far away from the place where their meals were served. Museum staff and volunteers speculated that the bell may have been used in one of Issaquah’s many logging camps in order to call the workers in for dinner. The bell was mounted in the exhibit as an example of one of these bells.
The exhibit opened in June 2006 and scores of visitors had already given the bell pull a tug and listened to its deep peal when Museum Director Erica Maniez bumped into documentation about the bell’s origin. While researching a different topic, she happened across an article about notable bells of Issaquah in one of Harriet Fish’s publications, “This Was Issaquah.”
One of the bells that Fish described in her article was a 16-inch bell hung by a yoke bearing the inscription, “Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co., No. 2 Yoke, 1886.” Lo and behold, the inscription matched the bell on exhibit. It was not a logging camp bell used to call loggers in for mealtime, but an artifact of the Lars Wold farm instead.
Harriet Fish wrote that Andy Wold, Lars Wold’s eldest son, recalled the bell during one of their many conversations. The bell was ordered through the Gordon Hardware Co., in Seattle. It was shipped from San Francisco and carted over the hill from Newcastle. The bell was mounted first in the cupola of the Wold washhouse at their farm, where it was used to call the workers from their chores at meal time or to sound the alarm in the case of an emergency.
Sometime later, the Wolds contributed the bell for use as a town fire bell. It was mounted to the top of a pole at the corner of Front and Mill streets, where it served to call out the Issaquah Volunteer Fire Department in case of fire.
When Fish wrote her article about 30 years ago, the bell was at Issaquah’s fire house. Two mysteries that remain are when it was retired as a fire bell and how it came to be part of the museum’s collection. Long-time volunteers recall that the bell was already in the collection prior to 1983, and was one of the bells rung locally on the occasion of the state centennial in 1989.
For museum staff and volunteers, rediscovering the bell’s history underscores the importance of tracking items and recording their stories as items enter the collection. Staff and volunteers alike often assume that they will remember key details long enough to record them later — until time, other tasks and imperfect memories come between the artifact and its story.
The lesson for us as individual stewards of our family and personal history is the same. Writing down a few important memories or stories, or taking a few moments with a fine-point Sharpie to label family photos will be a cherished gift to your children and grandchildren. Many of us assume that we have plenty of time to record information later or that our memories are not valuable enough to record. Taking a few moments right now to label a photo or write down a favorite family memory will prove to be a valuable investment in the preservation of your family’s history.
At the museums, workers continue to research, document and record collections in their care. Even though many of the items in the collection represent a history that is long past, there are always new discoveries to be made.