Giving history: unique finds this year for Issaquah’s museum

or a museum that relies solely on the generosity of others to fill its exhibits, last year produced some of the best donations of the decade, including an 19th-century fiddle, a 1980s public works patch and the high alter piece of a Catholic mission.

Ryan Heidy was about to open the Issaquah Coffee Company, when he found the 1960s sign hidden in some bushes on Gilman Boulevard.

A piece of modern history, it invited newcomers to join the city’s service clubs – Lions on Thursday, Garden Club at Gibson Hall and the Knights of Pythias every second and fourth Tuesday.

He cleaned it up to the best of his abilities – rust had eaten through the green paint and streaked the white lettering with red – and hung it behind the counter in the cafe.

“It wasn’t being displayed in a way that was worthy of how cool it was,” he said.

However, there are few better locations for the piece than the coffee shop, which is located in an historic farmhouse and, since opening a year ago, has become a hub in the neighborhood.

The Issaquah History Museum didn’t realize Heidy’s find until a large number of callers insisted it take a look.

Historians are now numbering the sign among their biggest finds of the year. For a museum that relies solely on the generosity of others to fill its exhibits, last year produced some of the best donations of the decade, including an 19th-century fiddle, a 1980s public works patch and the high alter piece of a Catholic mission.

 

Sharing the past

As a boy, Garry Anderson regularly heard the stories of the Issaquah settlers from his great grandmother, and with few other things to do it was often the entertainment for the evening.

“I was intrigued by it all,” he said

As he got older, he shared his love for local history with his aunt, who was a direct descendent from the Bush family for whom the city’s street is named. When she was near death, she gave him the fiddle of a man named Tom Cherry, who followed the Bush family from South Carolina, along the Oregon Trail and up to Issaquah.

A talented fiddler, Cherry and his violin were likely one of the few sources of live music or entertainment for the rural town, said Erica Maniez, an Issaquah historian.

Aside from having the most prominent gravestone in Issaquah, little is known of Cherry, but stories say he was orphaned, raised by a black family in the South, and never had a family.

Anderson had the violin for several years, in its original purple lined case, when he decided it would get better care in the hands of the museum.

“It could mean more in Issaquah’s museum than in my family,” he said. “I didn’t want to get it thrown away on accident.”

In the five years Julie Hunter has been the museum’s collections manager, it’s the most significant artifact she’s received.

Pieces like these highlight a new dimension of the city’s history, and they are a plus to the museum, which deals mostly in photographs, which fill filing cabinets and boxes in the slanted ceilings of the old Gilman Town Hall building.

In Maniez’s downstairs office, a lackluster high alter piece of the city’s first Catholic mission, St. Joseph’s, is propped up against a wall. The piece dates back to 1896.

The many stains, chips and holes on the white wainscoting piece stand out. The museum plans to display it as is, Maniez said. “Part of the history is to see how rustic it is.”

A cross adorning the top of the alter was only painted on the front side, there was no point in wasting paint on the back, said Hunter, a historian.

The piece was abandoned in the 1960s when St. Joseph’s moved to a big, new building. When grass had come through the floorboards of the old white church, and the walls had all but collapsed, members of the congregation salvaged it.

After 50 years of being stored in their attic, their story and the piece will find a home at the Historic Train Depot.

The museum is vital to the health of the community and keeping its history alive, said Anderson after donating the violin. “It doesn’t take many generations before it is gone.”

Tom Cherry’s violin was the Issaquah community’ds primary form of entertainment for several years at the turn of the 20th century.

This service club sign now hangs in the Issaquah Coffee Company. The Issaquah History Museums recently added it to their collections.