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‘The Issaquah History Museums Collection’ (as featured in the Spring 2021 Vol. 1 E-Newsletter of the Costume Society of America, Western Region)

| By Julie Hunter, Collections Manager

This piece was originally written for and published in the Costume Society of America‘s February 2021 e-newsletter.

Issaquah, Washington, is fifteen miles east of Seattle, in the homelands of the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Indian Tribes. Whites settled the valley in the 1860s and a town based on agriculture, lumbering, and coal mining was soon established. It remained a small town until the 1960s, when improved highways and a booming regional economy brought rapid development. Residents wanting to save their local history formed the Issaquah Historical Society in 1972. Since the first professional museum director was hired in 1999, the organization has become the Issaquah History Museums, with a staff of four.

To meet IHM’s mission “to discover, preserve and share the history of Issaquah and its environs,” we hold over 36,000 artifacts and images. The costume collection numbers approximately 900 pieces, providing a tangible and personal link back through all of the generations to the pioneering families of the area. The collection includes wedding dresses, bodices, skirts, jackets, dresses, underclothes, baby clothing, costume jewelry, hats, accessories, and shoes. As is typical, menswear is underrepresented, but we have some, especially jackets and T-shirts from after 1950. A silk shirt (see photo 1) that belonged to the town’s first pharmacist, as well as a Masonic apron belonging to his brother, the town’s first doctor, are key pieces. Also typically, we have many special event garments. In addition to a Campfire Girl Ceremonial Gown from 1920, party dresses, dance outfits, and several wedding gowns, we have a beautifully preserved bridesmaid’s dress from 1958 (see photo 2).


A white collared shirt on a hanger. Black vertical lines go down the front, while horizontal lines go across the cuffs.
1. Pharmacist John H. Gibson wore this shirt, which dates to 1913, often enough that the buttonhole to hold the detachable collar at the back of the neckband had to be repaired. [Image produced at the CSA Angels Day, April 16, 2019. IHM 2007.020.001]
2. Issaquah’s Nancy Trostle Horrocks wore this commercially made, multi-layered, embroidered dress when she was her aunt’s matron of honor at a June 1958 wedding in Seattle. [Image produced at the CSA Angels Day, April 16, 2019. IHM 2008.013.001]

Our earliest garments date to the 1830s and 1850s. During CSA’s Angel’s Day in 2019, we learned that a woman’s cap in 1850s style was probably a reuse for a fine fabric woven in India in the 1830s. It came from one of the earliest white families in the valley. A quilted underskirt, with provenance from Pennsylvania in 1855, was brought here by the maker’s daughter when she came to set up shop as a milliner in 1907.

The collection’s newest artifacts are a sash, cat ear headband, and fluffy pink tail, all of which were worn by Issaquah residents participating in Women’s Marches in Seattle and Washington, D.C., on January 21, 2017. Our strong continuum of items relating to Issaquah High School goes back to a graduation dress worn by a member of the first graduating class in 1911. We have generations of letter sweaters, as well as class rings and pins. Recently we were given a football player’s letter jacket from 1989 and a wardrobe of cheerleading uniform clothing from that era.

IHM was the grateful recipient of the 2019 CSA Angels Day. Along with the generous supply of storage materials, tools, and the expertise of the professionals, the photography from that day is very valuable to us. It allows us to show a good amount of the costume collection online. If you would like to see more of our collections, please visit our website at https://issaquahhistory.org/.

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!