A Thrift Shop Treasure

By Carolyn Davis
I have been a collections volunteer at the Issaquah History Museums (IHM) since the fall of 2009. This summer I started volunteering at the Eastside community Aid Thrift Shop in Kirkland. the director of the shop, Jody Orbits, showed me a textile that had been donated and asked me if I thought it was a real antique or a reporduction. My first thought was that it had to be a reproduction because a real 1848 textile would be quite rare. I told her that I didn’t know for sure but knew people who could help authenticate it.
First I showed it to the members of the Seattle Vintage Clothing & Textile Club. The club was founded three years ago and the membership has a wealth of historical textile knowledge. They pronounced it to be real and a great find.
Then I took it to Julie Hunter, collections manager at the IHM. As she looked at the warp, the weft, the pattern, the bright colors, the condition, and the weavers mark, her face lit up like a Christmas tree. IHM director Erica Maniez was also there that day and was excited about the piece.
What is this prize? It is a hand woven half-coverlet. The weaver’s mark is in the bottom right corner and reads, “Somerset, Ohio, 1848, L. Hesse, Weaver.” Erica’s internet research found that Mr. Hesse was recorded in a book called American Coverlets and their Weavers: Coverlets from the Collection of Foster and Muriel McCarl, by Clarita Anderson. He was born about 1809 in Germany. His wife’s name was Madeline and they settled in the Somerset Township, Perry County, Ohio, by about 1837, when their eldest child was born. The 1850 census listed Hesse as a 41-year- old weaver with real estate valued at $800. The book stated that he used Alsace-Lorraine dyed yarn produced by Michael Kircher. It also noted that Hesse was known to weave his mark in the corner block, including his name, location, date, usually his client’s name or initials, and “Weaver.” He was active between 1838 and 1860.
Julie determined it to be a half coverlet because there are some cut threads along the selvage where it had been sewn to its other half. She knew that most coverlet looms of the period in which this was made were only about a yard wide. This piece is thirty-five inches wide (the coverlet is seventy-nine inches long.) I can only imagine what the whole coverlet would have looked like. I’m sure it was magnificent! After 163 years, it is still in excellent condition and the dyes are vibrant, although one corner has some damage. If there had been color fade, the green might have faded to brown first. The fibers are wool and cotton or linen. The pattern is striking with birds, vines, grapes, leaves, flowers, stars, and buildings. All the motifs are consistent in style with other textiles and quilts of the mid-19th century, especially those with German heritage.
It would be wonderful to know how it got ti Kirkland, Washington. Did it come with settlers that came west of the Oregon Trail? Did a Gold Rush miner’s family bring it to the region when they settled here? Was it ever in Issaquah? Jody Orbits said when it cae into her thrift shop, it was under some other items in a box. Did a family clear a deceased relative’s estate, passing on all of the old things? Or did the donor think it was a reproduction? We will never know but it is fun to think of all the possibilities.
Since we established that it is indeed an antique, Jody agreed
that we should find an appropriate museum home for it. Julie wrote to the Ohio Historical Society. Later a curator called and said the OHS has over 400 coverlets in their collection, inluding a full coverlet woven by Mr. Hesse. He suggested that I contact the Perry County Historical Society, also in Ohio. David Snider, the Acquisitions Chairman of the PCHS, was delighted to have this half coverlet join the four already in their collection. I was sad to see it go when I shipped it to him, but it is going back home to where it belongs. I hope the Perry County museum and its audience enjoys it as much as we have.
I’d like to thank Julie Hunter and Erica Maniez for their expert help and for inviting me to tell this story. Jody Orbits and I were interviewed by the Kirkland Reporter and await the publication of this story in that paper. The reporter asked if we were going to take the coverlet to the PBS Antiques Roadshow. This little treasure has touched many people these last few months and has certainly earned its fifteen minutes of fame!

Hooray for Volunteers!

Last Thursday, May 13, we celebrated our 10th annual Volunteer Awards Night. This event is dedicated to showing volunteers our appreciation of what they do for the Issaquah History Museums. This year we honored 70 volunteers who donated their time to the organization during 2009. More than 2,937 hours donated in 2009.  The Independent Sector, an organization dedicated to leading, strengthening and mobilizing nonprofit organizations, has estimated the value of one volunteer hour at $20.85. That means that the total value of volunteer labor in our organization is $61,252. When you consider the fact that our annual budget averages around $125,000, you see what a significant impact volunteers have on our operations.

Each year we honor several volunteers with special awards. This year those folks were:
Joan Newman, Star Docent, put in 40 docent sessions during 2009 (which means she docented at one or the other of our museums 3 out of every four weekends in the year)
Denny Croston, Star Trolley Volunteer, took on the unexpected task of repairing the wrought iron railing around the trolley enclosure after a careless truck driver crashed into it.
Geoff Nunn, Star Programs Volunteer, who contributed more than 75 hours to designing and installing exhibits both on and off-site.
Mike Johnson received an award for his hard work in planning and publicizing the trolley’s Braggin’ Rights Poker Tournament, which netted the Trolley Project more than $800.
Jean Cerar was given the Timely Time Sheets award, in recognition of her prompt and thorough completion of time sheets throughout the year.
And finally, we named a Volunteer of the Year. The Volunteer of the Year award traditionally goes to someone who has not only donated a large number of hours to the organization, but who also helps out in a number of different roles. This year Bill Bergsma, Jr. was named our Volunteer of the Year for helping out just about any time we ask, at just about any task we ask him to do. We would be remiss if we did not also mention his cheerful demeanor, and the wonderful cookies he bakes to bring to various events.
If you attended the event, thank you very much for coming! If you missed it, you can read my opening comments below, and see a slide show of just some of the volunteers who helped in the past year.

If you have been to our volunteer awards night celebration before, you know that we like to choose a theme for the evening. Last year our theme centered around hops, one of Issaquah’s earliest cash crops. This year we are celebrating our volunteers with a logging theme. I suggested that we all wear flannel shirts and cork boots, but was overruled. I had also hoped we could join together in a rousing chorus of “I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay,” but once again was overruled.

Flannel and Monty Python aside, I’d like to recognize the Special Events committee for once again pulling together a wonderful event where no detail has been overlooked. I am doubly grateful to these people because not only have they taken on the task of organizing this event – they have done it on a volunteer basis. And that is the kind of dedication and support we so appreciate in our volunteers.

Allen Flintoft
Robin Kelley
Joan Newman
And finally, not a volunteer but a wonderful person anyway, my lovely assistant Karen Klein.

The lumber boom on the Eastside began with the Great Seattle Fire in 1889; all the lumber near Seattle had already been used to construct the city the first time around. After the fire, they had to look farther afield for new lumber sources and that is how the lumber industry took off on the East Side of Lake Washington.

As many of you know, the Issaquah area was home to hundreds of lumber and logging operations, from large lumber mills that spawned their own towns (like Monohon, Preston, High Point) to the very small family operations. And it is the very small logging operations that I want to talk about.

Small logging operations run by one or two or maybe three people were dubbed “gyppo operations.” At first this term was derogatory, carrying the implication that small companies were unscrupulous and cheated loggers at other operations out of their wages. The term eventually lost its negative connotation and referred to anyone with a small logging operation.

There are a lot of adjectives that have been attached to gyppo loggers. Some of the ones I came across were reckless, daring, fiercely independent, stubborn, maverick. But then I read this sentence by William G. Robbins of the University of Oregon: “Operating on little capital, substandard equipment, and always on the brink of financial failure, gyppo loggers multiplied in the Pacific Northwest woods in the two decades following the end of the Second World War.”

And I thought, that’s what Karen and Julie and I would be without our volunteers. We would be like those gyppo loggers, out in the forest, trying to eke out a living while we operate on relatively little capital, with substandard equipment, on the brink of a financial failure. It is very comforting to know that we don’t have to operate that way. It is comforting to know that we are working with a vast team of volunteers who won’t allow us to fail. And it is comforting to know that someone will always be around to answer our call for help.

Thank you so much for being part of our operation.

Railroad Tracks into town

Early Day Railroad Construction

If you take a close look at the railroad tracks in front of the Issaquah Depot, you can see bolts that hold together sections of rail. These are known as joint connections. These days, many of the rail joint connections used on older rail systems are no longer necessary. Modern rail laying methods involve welding rail sections together to make a continuously welded rail. Welding rails together is expensive but lowers maintenance costs. And, if you are a rail passenger, welded rail gets rid of the old “clickity-clack” sound when the wheels crossed rail joints. But, the traditional jointed rail system that we have at the Issaquah Depot is still used on some railways in the US and in other countries.

To make a jointed rail, the ends of rail sections are bolted together with 2 heavy steel plates, called fishplates or joint bars, one on each side of the rail joint. Full lengths of rail, as supplied by the factory, would have bolt holes in them. But, if an odd length of rail is cut for repairs or to fit a rail section, new bolt holes have to be drilled through the rail. Unfortunately, railroad workers in the 1800s and early 1900s did not have motor driven machines to make these holes. They had to manually drill holes in the vertical part, or web, of the rail. To help ease this job a bit, a rail drilling machine that used men as the “motor” were developed in the 1800s.

A sample of one of these machines is on display at the Depot museum. It’s a New-Style Paulus model made by the Buda Boy Co., patented in 1890 (pictured at right). It would have been operated by two railroad workers, one on each side turning a hand crank. The cranking would turn a horizontal shaft at the bottom of the machine. Attached at the rail end of the shaft was a large drill bit that turned to cut a hole in the rail. As the drill shaft turned, the machine’s mechanism moved the drill through the rail very slowly.

The IHM rail drill was restored by volunteer Eric Martin and is fully functional. Eric set up the display with the drill bit completely through the rail as it would appear when workers finished drilling a hole. To do this, Eric and I hand cranked the machine until the drill bit pierced the rail. After about 20 minutes of turning the handles, with a few short rests, we achieved success. However, Eric admits to a bit of “cheating” to shorten the work time; he pre-drilled a half-sized bolt hole in the rail using a modern motor powered drill.

For select groups, like rail enthusiasts, a specially trained docent could demonstrate how the drill operates without actually having to drill a hole.

This is one of a variety of projects we tackle at the Auto Freight Building (aka “The Shop”) on the corner of First Avenue and Bush Street. If you see our door open on a Saturday morning, feel free to stop by and find out what we are working on!

Sliding, Gliding, Dribbling & Casting

Last weekend several volunteers and I met at the Issaquah Community Center to install an off-site exhibit. The exhibit was designed by volunteer Geoff Nunn, and centers around the theme of recreation. Both summer and winter sports are included. Among the artifacts are a 1920s era women’s swim suit, a 1930s era sled, and an Issaquah High basketball scorebook from 1917.
The exhibit is positioned in the Community Center lobby, where thousands of people will pass by every day. We’re so pleased to have this opportunity to share Issaquah’s past with a new audience!
Above: Volunteer Paris Seabrook trims ethafoam to cover a wooden block. The block will be used to raise and support a dress form. The ethafoam prevents the wood from coming into contact with the wool swim suit; wood is high in acid, which can contribute to deterioration.
At right: Geoff Nunn carefully manuevers the dress form into the case.