Updated: May 2
To all of our members, dedicated volunteers, and supporters:
Hello! My name is Paul Winterstein, and it’s a pleasure to greet you from the Executive Director’s chair at IHM.
Coming in fresh to an organization that, let's face it, hasn't been itself these past 3 years has given me the opportunity to focus on our potential while learning from our past. First COVID and later staff and leadership departures left those still working for IHM wondering what the future held for their beloved institution. Down to just one employee during most of 2022, it was no small task to keep the lights on and our collection secure and well cared for. But thanks to the dedication of our Collections Manager Karen Gath, and our Board of Directors led by President Emily Lee and now by President Mark Laurance, we’ve not only managed to survive, but we’ve picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and have set off again with renewed vigor and focused purpose to bring our history back to the people and make our museums once again the place to gather with friends and community to learn about and experience Issaquah’s unique and colorful past.
Though it's only been 4 weeks since my start at the beginning of April, a few matters have risen to the top of the priorities list:
Gilman Town Hall needs attention After the pandemic closed the doors of the museum at Gilman Town Hall the exhibit was taken down and the artifacts carefully packaged and stored away for safe keeping. Now, three years later the exhibit space is still empty and the building needs a new roof, some new siding and a fresh coat of paint, improved ADA access, and a seismic retrofit of the foundation. And we haven't even gotten to the heating, air conditioning, and plumbing needs yet. The good news is that the building's owner, the City of Issaquah, has stepped up to the plate and is in the early stages off addressing these issues, many in 2023. The earthquake retrofit will be the most disruptive to our use of the building. Not wanting to wait until the timing of the work is known, we are beginning the process of planning for a fresh new exhibit to open as soon as possible after the renovation work is complete.
The Depot Museum needs to be more accessible Almost every day since I started here I have visited the Depot. What got my attention almost immediately were the number of people, including families with young children, that are constantly exploring the outside of the building and peering in the windows. But unless they are there between 11AM and 3PM on a Saturday or Sunday, looking in from the outside is all that they can do. Expanding the days and hours of Depot Museum would unlock its treasures to more current and future history buffs. Watch this space for ways you can get involved as a volunteer to help make this a reality. And to the many dedicated volunteers who worked at the Depot in the past as a docent, I look forward to connecting with you for this cause.
It's time to restart our most popular programming Our current thinking is to put energy into the mine hikes and the ever popular History Pub Crawls for the restart of programs that shut down due to COVID. What do you think? We would love to hear from you about specific programs or programming in general that you would like to see.
Our long term storage needs haven't gone away I still have a lot to come up to speed on when it comes to addressing our overall needs for more and better storage, but what I do know is that there is no quick fix. The other side of this issue is the question of exhibit space. An earlier capital campaign to rebuild the Auto Freight (AF) building from the inside out into a state-of-the-art storage facility quietly ended during the pandemic without reaching its goal. Still, the AF building holds many valuable and historic items that are waiting to tell their story to the public. At the same time, Gilman Town Hall holds much of our collection that requires environmental controls not available in the AF building. We are effectively at capacity when it comes to our special storage needs which is forcing us to delay the intake of additional items into our collection. I accepted this job with eyes wide open to the scope of this challenge. I look forward to working with experts, our funders, and our supportive community to take on the critical issue of storage.
What about the Issaquah Valley Trolley? Whereas our official position remains that running the trolley is not an IHM program, no issue has come up more than the trolley from supporters and the wider community. As a result, and with a nod from Board Leadership, I have begun a feasibility study of what it would take to restart the trolley. We're in the early stages of fact finding and no date has been set for my report to the Board. What is clear is that the trolley was popular and that it brought attention to IHM and for many children it was their first experience of the truly historic reality of arriving and departing Issaquah by rail. But can this be done in an economically feasible way? Can we rebuild a sustainable volunteer group so vital to the operation and maintenance of the trolley? Please leave your comments down below regarding the trolley!
As you can see, there is much to do to get IHM fully back on its feet and regain its place with an engaged and supportive community. Like many of you, Issaquah is in my blood and preserving its history for the benefit of current and future generations is a job that demands a deliberate and disciplined approach. I knew much of this before coming here, but in all honesty it is precisely why I took this job! With the team on board today and community at our back, I look forward to continuing the excellent work of my predecessors.