Historic video project records the legends and life of Issaquah’s past

Listening to Rob Pickering tell the story of how his ancestor came from a distant land to shape what would one day become the modern city of Issaquah is to see just how much we move with the passage of time.

“William Pickering, my great-grandfather, was born in Yorkshire, England in 1798. He didn’t know what to do being a civil engineer, that’s what he graduated as, and so he decided to come to America.”

Listening to Rob Pickering tell the story of how his ancestor came from a distant land to shape what would one day become the modern city of Issaquah is to see just how much we move with the passage of time.

Just a few short generations ago, Issaquah was little more than farmland and wilderness. Its pioneers are not ancient heroes, but the flesh and blood of men and women who still call Issaquah home today. Rob Pickering is one such man, whose family history runs parallel with the history of the area, and whose recollections are as vital to recording and documenting its past as any grainy photograph or history text book.

“He got on a tramp steamer, he had a few dollars, he got over to the United States and he ended up settling in Illinois,” Pickering continues. Illinois was kind to the Englishman. He met a gal, got married, had five sons, and got elected to the Illinois state legislature. It was there that he made the acquaintance of a man who would change his destiny – Abraham Lincoln.

The two became friends, and it was Pickering who nominated Lincoln for the Presidency of the United States. When Lincoln was elected, he decided to repay his friend with the offer of two postings.

“He nominated my great-grandfather (to be) United States ambassador to England, or Washington Territorial Governor,” Rob Pickering recalled. “It wasn’t a state, it was just a territory. He took the governorship and he came out here on a train and settled in Snoqualmie, right where the falls are. He came to Issaquah from Snoqualmie, where he had a little house and ran his business as governor, in 1865. He thought it was the most beautiful valley he’d ever seen in his life. It was not Issaquah – it was called Squak Valley. He settled here in Issaquah, built a little house, and a little barn.”

That little barn is now known as Pickering Barn, and serves not only as a well-used community asset, but also as a reminder of the city’s agricultural past.

Rob Pickering’s colorful retelling of the story of his great-grandfather is just one of the many historic moments captured in the Issaquah History Museums (IHM) recently completed Oral History Video Project.

The video, which goes on sale Aug. 1, contains stories of old Issaquah told by the people who live here, including Walt Seil, Ruth Mohl, Skip Rowley, Florence Bergsma Harper, Donna Pedegana Arndt and Dick Campbell. The interviews are filled with amazing stories and deeply personal memories that inform and improve our perspective on the community’s history.

In addition to the video, this project included fourteen other oral history interviews.

Viewers will hear about the Prohibition-era Dry Squad, the role Issaquah residents played in World War II, Issaquah’s link to D.B. Cooper, and how a local church gave life to one of Seattle’s largest bio-tech companies.

The two-DVD set includes 17 video shorts made up of first-hand accounts of life in Issaquah from the 1920s to the present day, paired with hundreds of maps and images from the Issaquah History Museums’ collection.

Videos can be purchased online, or at the Issaquah History Museums (Gilman Town Hall and the Issaquah Depot) for $39.95. Viewers can also see the shorts on Issaquah’s cable station, Channel 21/61.

This project was made possible through funding from 4Culture, the Kiwanis Club of Issaquah, and area donors. The history shorts were created in partnership with TV 21/61, Issaquah’s local cable station.

Grants and donations made it possible to hire oral historian Maria McLeod to conduct interviews, and videographer Lainy Bagwell to direct and produce a video.

For more information about the Issaquah History Museums or this project, contact Erica Maniez at the Gilman Town Hall Museum, phone: 425-392-3500, or e-mail info@issaquahhistory.org.