Unlock the Issaquah History Museums’ secrets

February 21, 2012

By Christina Lords

Issaquah History Museums Executive Director Erica Maniez leans against a historic road sign at the Gilman Town Hall Museum. By Greg Farrar

Find hidden treasures from the past in the city’s unofficial ‘attic’

There are 8,359. And counting.

That’s how many artifacts, including 3-D objects and an array of documents, make up the Issaquah History Museums’ collection.

With 7,111 photos to complement the collection, there’s no better place to get a sense of what makes Issaquah, well, Issaquah.

Among the items are rare finds — an unusual Native American trading knife buried beneath the floor of an Issaquah business or a logger’s skidding cone made right here by the town blacksmith.

Some are specific to this area, such as an early 1900s billboard — discovered later facedown in a ditch — advertising the latest and greatest in Issaquah merchants, medical care and goods.

But while each item lays claim to its own history and back story, every artifact weaves into a fabric that tells a story of who we are as a community, how we came to be and even where we’re going in the future.

Issaquah History Museums’ fur trading knife. By Greg Farrar

Fur trading knife

Donation date: 2006

Donor: Eric Martin

As one of the few authentic Native American artifacts in Issaquah’s entire collection, the historical society’s fur trading knife from the late 1800s is unique enough to stand out all on its own.

But how the knife came to find a home among the collection is equally noteworthy. This type of fur trade knife was manufactured in Europe and traded to Native Americans for furs and pelts. But about 100 years later, while reconstructing the floor of Issaquah’s Auto Freight Building, Eric Martin came along the artifact hidden beneath the floorboards in the 1980s. As a knife enthusiast, he added it to his collection and didn’t think anything else of it until he stumbled upon a similar-looking knife at a museum in Renton.

That’s when he realized he may have found something remarkable. The design on the knife is uncommon and was added by the knife’s original owner or the manufacturer.

Issaquah History Museums’ bridesmaid’s dress. By Greg Farrar

Bridesmaid’s dress

Donation date: 2008

Donor: Nancy Horrocks

A woman’s wedding dress is often the most-kept textile in a family and the history museums has several within its catalogue. But one of the most beautiful articles of clothing in the organization’s collection isn’t a wedding dress — it belonged, instead, to a bridesmaid.

Worn by longtime Issaquah resident Nancy Horrocks at a cousin’s wedding in Seattle in 1958, the dress is stored in a custom-made box completely surrounded by tissue paper to preserve its seams, color and shape. Horrocks moved to Issaquah as a small child after World War II in 1945 and graduated from Issaquah High School.

Issaquah History Museums’ identification tags. By Greg Farrar

Identification tags

Donation date: 1995

Donor: Denny Croston

No industries were arguably more essential to the development of Issaquah than coal mining and logging. The Issaquah Superior & Coal Mining Co., organized by Count Alvo von Alvensleben on Squak Mountain, gained the surface and coal rights to about 2,000 acres of land and spent more than $1 million to prepare to take coal from its properties in the early 1900s.

More than 500 men were employed as the mine was beginning to open, with a monthly payroll of $30,000. More businesses and homes were developed in Issaquah in 1913 than the previous 20 years. To keep track of a miner as he entered and exited the mine, workers carried time check disks to keep track of who was underground. The disks may have also been used to determine how many hours the worker had put in that day.

Issaquah History Museums’ water pipe. By Greg Farrar

Water pipes

Donation date: 2006

Donor: unavailable

Issaquah’s early 1900s water system was made of wood, held together with wire and solidified with tar. Without readily available fire hydrants, the town’s volunteer fire department would dig to a pipe and drill a hole to access the water underground.

“Some of the water pipes they have found have multiple holes punched into them to be repaired later,” said Erica Maniez, Issaquah History Museums executive director. “It makes fire hydrants look like a major technological breakthrough now.”

Holes were often patched with a wooden plug and held together with tar after use.

Issaquah History Museums’ medicine bag. By Greg Farrar

Medicine bag

Donation date: 2009

Donor: Ivor Morgan’s children

While his parents lived in the Pacific Coast Coal Co. housing below the coalbunkers on Mine Hill, Ivor Morgan was born July 29, 1914 — the first day of World War I. Morgan had an uncommon opportunity to further his education beyond graduating from Issaquah High School in 1933 after his father sent him to college at the University of Washington.

The Issaquah native went on to receive a medical degree from George Washington University and completed an internship at Harborview Medical Center before establishing a private practice in North Seattle. He also provided medical services for an Arab-American oil company in Saudi Arabia and was well-traveled. His doctor’s bag and medical kit remain a part of the museums’ collection.

Roadside sign

Donation date and donor: unavailable

With its worn wood, faint paint and hand-drawn lettering, a nearly 7-foot billboard advertising some of Issaquah’s finest merchants, stores and businessmen was almost lost to the elements.

The billboard, which was found in a ditch, was among some of the first pieces to be collected by the historical society as it began to form in the early 1970s.

“This is sort of the prototype of those little blue information signs you see now on the side of the highway,” Maniez said.

The roadside board, thought to have been created in about 1910, boasts Issaquah businesses only a mile away, such as J.J. Lewis Hardware, the Kandy Shop and Gibson’s Pharmacy. Some stores, such as the hardware shop that was in business for more than 100 years, had equal staying power. The initialized toolbox that belonged to Lewis himself is also a coveted piece in the Issaquah collection.

Issaquah History Museums’ violin. By Greg Farrar


Donation date: 2011

Donor: Garry Anderson

Not only was Thomas Jefferson Cherry one of the Issaquah Valley’s earliest settlers, but with the help of his violin, he may have been the most entertaining. Cherry journeyed to Issaquah in the 1860s and became close friends with James Bush and his family. Because Cherry had no wife or children to inherit the instrument, the violin was handed down through the Bush family for generations.

“It was most likely the only source of music in the valley at that particular time other than people whistling to themselves,” Maniez said. “It was one of the few portable instruments that we know about.”

The item was the oldest object to be acquired by the organization last year.

Issaquah History Museums’ jail. By Greg Farrar

The second jail

It wasn’t Issaquah’s first jail or its last. And while it was only in commission between the years 1914 and 1930, what the structure lacks in actual use, it makes up for in character and lore. After a handful of inebriated loggers were incarcerated in the town,s first jail — made of wood on Mill Street — they reportedly kicked down their cell after guards failed to remove the men’s hobnailed logging boots. This fortified concrete two-cell cement structure was created to house the town miscreants, drunks and other unsavory townsfolk. It has 8-inch walls, an 80-pound bar to secure the door and still remains intact behind the Gilman Town Hall Museum.

Graffiti board

Donation date: 2001

Donor: Issaquah Salmon Hatchery

Magnus Seilberg probably never thought his graffiti would see the light of day.

“This was the way we had of existing. These happy days of capitalism,” he clandestinely wrote into a wall of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery on Sept. 17, 1938.

His message didn’t resurface until 63 years later, when members of a restoration project uncovered the penciling and added it to the museums, collection.

“We ended up doing research on him because a quote like that cries out for context,” Maniez said.

After emigrating from Sweden in the 1920s, Seilberg settled in the area just as the Great Depression hit. He was intermittently in and out of work while trying to support his wife and children. In 1930, his wife died during childbirth, and Seilberg placed a notice in the newspaper to thank Issaquah residents for contributing funds for her burial.

Seilberg scribbled the note while he was a laborer for a project through the Works Progress Administration, the New Deal agency that oversaw the construction of public buildings and roads, including the hatchery.

“This is the type of artifact you just live for,” Maniez said. “It’s like receiving a message from the past.”

Issaquah History Museums’ skidding cone. By Greg Farrar

Skidding cone

Donation date: 2004

Donor: Lavera McCloskey Mitchell

As a valued and rare addition to the museum’s logging artifacts, a skidding cone — also known as a logging bell — was often used to haul single logs by one horse allowing for single-man logging operations. This cone was used in the 1920s and 1930s by pole cutter Peter McCloskey Jr. Jack Alexander, the town blacksmith and husband to Stella Alexander, made the bell.

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