By Polly Keary, Editor
If you want to put a full-sized mineshaft in a building, you need a lot more than 3,500 square feet.
A mineshaft complete with ore cars is only one of a vast number of moving, interactive exhibits that Jerry Senner hopes to include in a radically expanded Western Heritage Center.
This month, his long-held dream of growing the historical museum he opened on the fairgrounds in 2007 moved much closer to reality, as the county agreed to set aside a piece of land right next door to the current museum for a facility 10 times its size.
Now Senner only needs to find $1 million to build it.
The county contributes
“We’re kind of excited,” said Jerry Senner last week, seated amid the myriad machines and artifacts that crowd the small museum of logging, farming and agriculture. “The county made a definite agreement on the land.”
The museum occupies a small building on the east edge of the fairgrounds, next to a large lot used for parking during the busy annual fair.
That eight-and-a-half acre lot itself has historical significance. It once belonged to Harold Hanson, who once owned the Monroe Safeway and a local boat factory, and it was the site of Hanson’s Prairie Market, which later became a church.
The county eventually bought the land for $3.5 million, but hasn’t developed it. Now part of it could be the site of a 33,000 square foot museum, provided Senner can raise the money to build it.
That’s going to take $900,000 or so, but Senner doesn’t think funding will be a problem.
After all, $1 million is cheap when it comes to museums.
For example, Tacoma’s Washington State History Museum is only three times the size of the one Senner proposes, but it cost $42 million all the way back in 1996.
And renovation of the building that holds the new Museum of History and Industry in Seattle cost about $90 million.
Senner plans to build in $300,000 phases, and he believes there is grant money available to pay for much of it.
“It will be grants from foundations, because there is no government money available,” said Senner. “But there’s the Murdock Charitable Trust and the Gates Foundation, and there’s smaller ones, too, like county tourism grants, for $10,000-$15,000. I have a good grant writer, too; he teaches grant writing.”
Touching the past
In order to get grants, though, Senner will need a set of plans to show, and he’s already started work on those.
Harmsen and Associates is doing the engineering work, and they are addressing issues with ground water that could be problematic.
And Senner is getting building plans completed, too. So far he envisions a two-story, steel frame building. That would make the Western Heritage Center one of the largest museums of its kind on the West Coast.
The most important thing that sets the center apart from other museums, though, is the nature of the exhibits, said volunteer Steve Rizzo.
“Everything moves and turns,” he said. “That’s what people like, is the things that move and turn.”
The current museum is jammed with operational machines, including a huge old drill press, a corn shucker, an antique hay bailer and a giant outdoor waterwheel.
With 10 times as much space, Senner could include a theater, a full-sized sluice in which people could pan for gold, a blacksmith shop with a smith performing live demonstrations, a spar tree in the center of the museum that would rotate, driving other moving exhibits as it turned, and a life-sized model of the kind of paddlewheel boat that was once ubiquitous on the Snohomish and Skykomish Rivers.
In fact, the new facility would preserve a great deal of history that has utterly vanished before modern development.
There could be a section of the museum devoted to Native American history, including examples of the canoes, clothes and tools of the region’s original inhabitants. Senner hopes to coordinate with local tribes to curate those displays.
Somewhere in the Fryelands exists the small RV-sized engine car of a train that carried lettuce from the vast fields that once occupied the land. Senner would like to unearth that engine and house it. And in the woods near the old mill town of Wagner, another engine used to move logs lies abandoned. Senner doesn’t know where it is, but there are old-timers who think they could find it, and Senner would like to retrieve it.
Also, Senner hopes to collect the memories of the people who remember the Sky Valley as it was when timber and agriculture were the main industries.
“There’s one woman who used go to school by horse and buggy up by Kellogg Lake, on the Old Owen Road,” said Senner. “She said you could ride anywhere in the forest because the canopy was so dense that there was no brush.”
Another logger remembers a trick they used to play on truck drivers.
“They had what they called inclines. Rather than build a three-mile road to get to the top, they’d have a 70-degree slope and pull trucks up it,” said Senner. “The fun thing they’d do, they’d get the trucker halfway down, and they’d throw a cup of water on the brakes, and he’d free-fall about 40 feet before the brake heated up again and it would slow him back down.”
A museum that preserved that kind of history would be an important tourist attraction, Senner thinks.
Already, school and senior groups come from all over the county. A bigger museum could draw from nearby states, Senner said.
He hopes to get started building it this year.
“That’s my goal,” he said. “I’m sensing grant money is pretty good. I think it’s there.”