Ok, not quite a full year, but the past 9 months at Issaquah History Museums have been fun and engaging, and though we still have a number of big issues to address, I am really looking forward to 2024.
But first I want to express my gratitude to those who made this journey possible. To you who
value Issaquah's history and for whom we owe our existence, thank you. We strive to live up to your expectations. To those who came before me at IHM that shepherded and nurtured the organization, assembled our collection, earned the trust of the 3,200 names in our database, and left me a solid foundation to build upon, thank you. To the 100's of volunteers who have given of themselves for the benefit of others, thank you. Finally, to our staff and Board members (volunteers themselves), thank you for giving me this opportunity and for your continuing support. I am truly grateful to all of you!
"The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present." -G.K. Chesterton Writer and philosopher
One thing I've grown fairly fond of is our mission to discover, preserve, and share Issaquah's history. What I've come to believe is that "discover" can be done by anyone. You don't have to run a museum or favor antique shops to be attuned to the importance of capturing history and not missing those opportunities to grab ahold of something whose story is worth remembering. On the other hand, "preserve" can be tricky. Even digital artifacts require special attention and preservation, otherwise they can be lost and never recovered. Of course items susceptible to degradation by the environment require special attention. Preservation is where the professionals and learned hobbyists make a difference.
As for "share", well, this is why we preserve, isn't it? Experiencing history can be fun, surprising, and thought provoking, all the while connecting us with people and place. And it's about making a difference, today and tomorrow.
2023: The Year That Was
We are ending 2023 with only one person on our staff that was here at the beginning of the year, that being Karen Gath, our Collections Manager. Please join me in thanking Karen for her dedication and commitment to IHM!
Despite staff changes, with our very capable 3-person team (Karen, myself, and Page Saurs, our recently hired Museum Assistant and communications lead) plus our fantastic volunteers we have in fact turned the corner and are clearly on an upward path. Our accomplishments and impact are visible in the numbers:
The number of people visiting the Depot Museum grew dramatically from just under 400 during the first six months to over 1,400 during the second half.
The number of people reacting to, commenting on, and sharing our social media posts grew by over 300% to 1,600+ in the past 90 days when compared to the previous 90 days.
A dearth of environmentally controlled storage space for artifacts continues to dampen our efforts to collect new items that require special preservation. But the same isn't true of digital artifacts, and nowhere is this more evident than in our growing collection of Oral Histories. Over 50 new entries have been published on our website this year, and all of them are real treasures. All of these first-person testimonies enrich the histories we maybe thought that we already knew. To quote our high school intern who is helping us index the Oral Histories to make them more accessible: "These are really interesting. I am learning a lot of stuff!" Visit this collection on our web site by clicking here.
Over the years, programming has been a hallmark of IHM's engagement with the community and an important way to share our history and grow the number of people--both young and old--feeling more connected to Issaquah. But programming takes volunteers and requires sizable effort from IHM staff to operate on a sustainable basis. Unfortunately, this has been an area where we have been lacking. Nevertheless, through the generosity and commitment of a handful of volunteers we were able to host three events for over 50 participants this past fall. This was a modest but encouraging restart to our sharing of history through active engagement. It is a priority to offer more programming in 2024.
Salmon on Sunset, the 2-year old event hosted by our friends at F.I.S.H. gave us the opportunity to engage the public in a new way, and we did not miss the opportunity by rolling out an all-new exhibit focused on the history of the fish hatchery. You can see this exhibit now inside the Depot museum.
We hosted an Open House at the Depot in November and what a great turnout there was! Our goal had been to reconnect with the public who the pandemic had separated us from. What we hadn't expected was how much the 80+ attendees would reconnect with one another. This event was worthy of its own writeup, which you can access here.
As an outsider to the organization for most of my 40 years in Issaquah, I was still aware that if not for the efforts of many people, much of the history preserved today would have been lost to time. Thus was born the idea to recognize and preserve the memories of those who volunteered their time and worked so hard to preserve Issaquah's history. The History Hero Award was envisioned as just such an honor. Read more about the award and its first recipient, the unmatched Greg Spranger, here.
As enthusiastic as I am about ramping up our programming, I remain grounded by the belief that our long-term interests are best served by engaging with our youth. To succeed, the opportunities to learn history must promise fun and stoke the imagination, and wherever possible, be hands-on. This was the promise of the trolley as shared by the 9 long-term Issaquah Valley Trolley volunteers at our meeting in July. From there we launched the trolley feasibility study, a status update on which was provided at the Open House and whose next major milestone is scheduled for the IHM Board meeting this coming February. Look for a blog post with an update prior to then.
Speaking of our youth, I will wrap up the year's highlights with an update on our work with Gibson Ek high school students. Driven by the passion to teach and the love of history, Gibson Ek teacher Jef Rettmann has organized his Design Lab of roughly 20 students to work with us on a fresh, new design for the Gilman Town Hall exhibit space. We also have two interns helping with the Oral Histories collection and research, and a another Capstone student working to make our website more user friendly of accessing our collection online.
"The casual influence I have on the world only extends to the future. The choices I can make right now will have an impact that I will feel down the road, but I cannot make a choice right now that undoes what happened in the past" -Sean Carroll Theoretical physicist and philosopher
2024: The Year To Be
The good work and momentum from 2023 will carry us into the new year. The one word that best captures our aspirations for the coming year is "engagement". Rather than sit back and hope people come to us, we plan to actively get out into the community and make our history accessible, interesting, and fun. This will be possible only with the support of volunteers and partners.
Out in the community with guided tours. Issaquah is very much an outdoor community, and its historic district and surrounding places are full of fun and interesting history. This will extend in 2024 to where our cultural history intersects with the natural history of the area.
In the museum. With the help of knowledgeable and enthusiastic docents that bring our history to life with their stories and charming personalities, we look to expand the hours and days of operation of the Depot museum.
That other museum too. We want to do something with an all-new exhibit at Gilman Town Hall that will have special meaning for both long-term and new residents of the area. Something that connects everyone to the very essence of this place.
The trolley. With the support of partners, sponsors, volunteers, and the wider community, bringing back this rolling classroom is possible.
Thanks, everyone for your continuing interest and support! On behalf of all of us at IHM, Happy New Year!