Community members unearth artifacts for museums’ collection

February 21, 2012

By Christina Lords

Mary Scott was looking for stock at a yard or estate sale when she found it.

As a local antique dealer and Issaquah History Museums volunteer, she knew there was more to the old 16-by-16-by-26 inch wooden box on wheels than what probably met the eye.

And while officials with the museums are still trying to figure out the technical term for it, for now it’s been dubbed the hot box — a contraption meant to keep large amounts of food warm while it’s transported en masse to railroad workers or loggers at mealtimes. It is thought to have been used between 1890 and 1920.

Scott joined more than 40 other donors in 2011 to bring in artifacts and photographs that help piece together Issaquah’s rich history one item at a time. Items donated to the organizations must, first and foremost, be linked to Issaquah, and they must also have unique appeal.

While the hot box is the second thermal box in the collection, the organization decided to keep it because of how uncommon they are and how complete this one is, said Collections Manager Julie Hunter.

“This is a rather unusual item, and it’s interesting to me that it’s the second one that we’ve acquired,” she said. “I think that says a lot about how much lumbering and railroad work was done in this area.”

Items like the hot box offer a window into the everyday life of people of the past, she said.

“They were manufactured specifically to make large quantities of food hot and moveable,” she said. “You have a series of tins here, almost like oversized bento boxes. You would put hot water or hot coals underneath the bottom grid to keep things warm.”

The museums’ collection is now home to 2011’s oldest donated piece — a violin with its case that belonged Thomas Jefferson Cherry, one of Issaquah’s earliest settlers, who came to this valley in the 1860s.

The museums also received a donation that was originally part of the first St. Joseph Catholic Church erected in 1896 on Mill Street, or modern day Issaquah’s Sunset Way.

In 1964, construction of a new church began on Mountain View Boulevard, and Mass was first held there March 7, 1965.

But in the meantime, the original church building had fallen into disrepair.

Museums Executive Director Erica Maniez said some of the churchgoers at the time recall grass growing up through the floorboards of the old church.

The original church’s high altar, carefully stored by Bill and Eleanor Somsak for nearly 50 years, was donated to the museums in 2011 on their behalf by their son Jeff Somsak.

The high altar will soon find a new home on display at the Issaquah Train Depot.

The collection also picked up present-day items this year that will certainly hold historical significance later, such as the promotional materials from Swedish/Issaquah’s opening in 2011.

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