History’s Role in Issaquah is Preserved, Thanks to Many

This article appeared in The Issaquah Press, May 14, 1997

Truly good leaders chart the course of the future with a strong sense of the past. Often, it is history that is the seed of our best ideas how to move ahead. Even when history has little role in forming future plans, it always is good to know what not to do, which no doubt is the origin of the time-tested adage, “experience is the best teacher.” After all, “history repeats itself.”

This isn’t to say our best leaders are historians, though we’ve had our share of CEOs, politicians and spiritual guides with deep roots in history studies and research. It is to say, however, that societies large and small, whether a country or a community, seem to hold up better when they are able to weave their heritage into the tapestries of the future. There is a sense of strength that comes from tying the resilient bonds of the past with the uncertainties of the future.

Certainly, our best leaders most often are not our best historians. The two roles are too commanding to find them on one desk. But you will find that our best leaders are patrons of historians — and for reasons greater than securing their own favorable place in history.

Issaquah should be proud that it has brought a goodly amount of its history forward. If you were to compare Issaquah’s downtown with those of like cities in western Washington — quaint communities that have boomed in today’s era of high growth — you’ll see what I mean. More precisely, look at our museums. We would be fortunate to have one, but we instead have two. Of course, the greatest blessing we have are the people who have built — and continue to build — the framework through which our history lives. A relative newcomer to Issaquah, I cannot draw on first-hand knowledge to relate how history has gained such a prominent role in our city. Nonetheless, I can marvel how it came about, and offer my — and The Press’ — congratulations to the Issaquah Historical Society on the eve of its 25th anniversary.

It was May 21, 1972, that a small group of people first gathered with Mayor Keith Hansen to discuss forming what we now know as the Issaquah Historical Society. Just nine days later, at the home of Floyd and Esther Bush, the group’s first meeting was held. Historical society records show that Harriet Fish, Marilyn Foley, Joe Peterson, Clark and Mae Darst, Al and Anita Page, Virginia Grant, Harriet Bush and Elizabeth and Jim Perry joined their hosts to map out this venture.

The group was summoned, figuratively if not literally, by Fish through word of mouth and her columns and news briefs in The Press. Her name appears in virtually all other records for years, and many historical society members today consider her the single biggest force in the group’s formation.

It was the writing of Harriet Fish’s husband, Edwards, who died in 1969, that first spawned widespread interest in Issaquah’s rich and diverse history. When published in 1967, “The Past at Present” quickly established itself as the definitive source for local history; its reprint in 1972 attests for that. Harriet Fish carried on the work of her late husband, but she modestly pointed out that they were only carrying a torch that had been ignited before them.

In her 1984 essay, “Development of the Historical Movement in Issaquah,” Harriet wrote that when she and Edwards arrived in Issaquah in 1948, “already, … some of the ‘old-timers’ were recognizing the need to preserve what was here. One such person was Carmen Ek Olson, whose ancestors had created much of the history in this area.”

I am proud to say The Press, the oldest newspaper on the Eastside, played a role in assimilating this “early” history through the 31 columns Olson wrote for the paper from Oct. 7, 1954 through May 19, 1955. “This material,” Harriet Fish wrote, “… attracted the attention of Ed and me, is still today the essence, the start and the stimulation for what has happened since.”

In 1960, Mayor Bill Flintoft appointed Olson, the Fishes, Roy Pickering, Ed Hendrickson and Andy Wold to the Centennial Planning Committee. The committee’s charge was three-fold as it prepared for the city’s 100th anniversary in 1962. It was to inform newcomers of its history; inspire pioneer descendants to step forward with their information; and preserve the history in writing. It was the writing part of the committee’s mission from which “The Past at Present” was born.

With momentum firmly in place, the historic-minded turned to Peterson for additional clout. “… Being active in city government, a historian and high school teacher, (he) now had taken the lead,” Harriet Fish wrote. After several meetings through the summer and fall of 1972, Mayor Keith Hansen and the City Council officially created the Historical Commission in November.

It’s original five members were Peterson, Harriet Fish, Mae Darst, Bud Settem and Jim Perry. Also that month, the city decided to buy the building that now houses the Gilman Town Hall Museum for $6,100. The rest, you might say, is history.

This Article © 1997 Issaquah Press.