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Where is Estacada's history housed?

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Without a centralized museum to house Estacada's history, historical items are scattered througout the community. Many are donated to Philip Foster Farm. However, the farm focuses on the time period between 1840-1900. While the farm accepts items from outside of this period, they usually remain in storage instead of on display. Staff and volunteers say that although they'd like to be able display items such as this dress from the early 1900s, they simply do not have the space, personnel or resources.Everyone agrees that the Estacada area is rich with history. It is one of the aspects of the town that citizens are most proud of.

Historic photographs hang in City Hall, restaurants and grocery stores.

Murals depict Estacada’s early trains.

PGE has volunteer historians on hand to tell of the construction of the dams.

But there is no centralized Estacada historical museum to house items from throughout the area’s history.

Philip Foster Farm is one of the area’s biggest draws, but the staff focuses on the period between 1840-1900.

Nevertheless, items that date from outside of the farm’s period of focus keep getting donated there anyway.

“Our goal is eventually to have a larger place to display those kinds of things,” said Amber Milmore, the event coordinator and storekeeper at Philip Foster Farm.

She explained that the farm is unable to do so right now due to, in part, limited space, staff and funds.

Milmore said the farm has been donated items such as clothing, quilts, diaries, field guides and rawhide chairs from outside of the 1840- 1900 time period. The staff keeps the items, but it seems unlikely that they will be on display any time soon.

For a number of years, Estacada did have its own history museum.

The Estacada Area Historical Museum first filed as a nonprofit organization in 1985.

It was housed in the west side of City Hall, in the space now occupied by the city manager’s offices.

The museum displayed items such as historic photographs, a large piano, wagon wheels, antique machinery, a vintage washing machine, paraphernalia from the early days of the Estacada schools and items relating to early railroads and the construction of the PGE dams.

The two-room exhibit was run by volunteers. But over time those volunteers moved away, went on to other things or died.

The Estacada Area Historical Museum involuntarily dissolved due to inactivity in 1996.

The Sept. 24, 2003, issue of the then Clackamas County News reported that for several years the Estacada Chamber of Commerce held the keys to the museum and would occasionally let people in to look at the displays.

Former Estacada Mayor Becky Arnold remembers spending the summer of 2001 cleaning, cataloguing and taking inventory of the museum with her husband and daughter.

But even after all of that effort, Arnold said that, “People were coming in, but not a lot.”

Prior to her family’s cataloguing efforts, Arnold said the museum items had simply been sitting in a closed off room of City Hall.

In 2003, the Estacada Area Historical Museum was reborn as a nonprofit organization.

According to Arnold, the museum had always been run in close association with the Chamber of Commerce. But she left the museum board when preparing to run for city council.

Irene Adams became president of the museum board in the mid-2000s.

Adams explained that when she became president, there weren’t many people on the board to run the museum.

In June 2008, then-City Manager Randy Ealy wrote to the museum board to inform them that City Hall would undergo construction to the building in an area that “includes the current museum space.”

“My plan is to move as much of the items in the museum upstairs and store them until a more permanent home can be determined,” he wrote to the museum board.

According to a July 16, 2008, article of the Estacada News, only a few items from the museum remained on display in City Hall.

“We’re landlord at this point,” Ealy was quoted in the article. “Until the museum board decides to take the items elsewhere, we will certainly put them in storage.”

According to Adams, the museum board had difficulty finding a place to relocate. The museum items had been kept rent free in City Hall, so finding another rent free place to store the items presented a challenge.

“I found very little interest in the museum after the city manager asked us to leave,” said Adams, who was reluctant to speak of the museum because of “too much negativity” associated with the memory.

In an October 2009 memo to the mayor and City Council, current City Manager Bill Elliott explained that one of his first tasks as city manger was to determine “whether or not the city had any fiduciary responsibility for the safeguarding of the items in the collection.”

Elliott explained in the memo that after checking with the city attorney and the state, “We have determined that the items were donated to the museum and not to the city, therefore, the current museum group are appropriately maintaining the items and moving forward with plans to create a rolling display among whatever other plans they may have.”

At some point, the items were removed from the City Hall attic.

Some city leaders hinted at tension surrounding this event and were reluctant to comment on the record.

“This is where everything went bad,” Arnold wrote. “I do not know where the items went.”

When reached for comment, Estacada Area Historical Museum board members from the time explained that the items went into storage.

Dora Morgan said that the items were stored in her garage for about a year.

Morgan said she had the idea to start a “mobile museum” in which children could experience local history exhibits that could travel to their schools.

She purchased a bus to that end.

Morgan said she spent about a year fundraising and trying get the museum up and running, but the project fell through because of a lack of funding.

Adams said all of the items from the museum are currently under her care.

“The items are all in storage. I’ve tried and tried to find a place for them,” she said.

“I haven’t given anything away, put anything on Ebay, the computer. All I’ve done is received items from people,” she added.

“We tried two or three years to get someone to sponsor us; raffles and things, and we just gave up,” said Earlene Burcham who was the museum’s treasurer and secretary. “There’s nothing we can do.”

In 2010, the Corporation Division of the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office labeled the Estacada Area Historical Museum “inactive” because of its failure to renew its nonprofit status.

“We’re not a nonprofit anymore because we lost that status due to no funding and no location,” Adams said.

At the moment, the historic items seem to be in limbo.

A representative of the Oregon Historical Preservation Commission explained that museums are usually nonprofit groups that hold items in the public trust. As such, the items cannot be sold.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Burcham said. “We have to do something. It’s just sitting there.”

“Maybe somebody else would come up and do something about it,” she added.

Now where do they go?

With items from the old museum in storage, where do historical items go today?

Asking around town, they seem to be going to private collectors or people that simply want to safeguard items until there is a reliable place to display them.

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Philip Foster Farm intern Susie Trexler has spent the summer cataloging and archiving items donated to the farm by Mary E. (Betty) Cody. She displays an album of paper work from Estacada's early schools.Many are donated to Philip Foster Farm, where the archived items from outside of the 1840-1900 time-frame are available for viewing by appointment only.

It seems that almost everyone would like to see a new museum. The trickiness comes in with how to fund it, where to put it and who to run it.

Mayor Brent Dodrill admitted that the question of the museum “hasn’t been on our radar for a period of time now.”

However, Dodrill said that it would be “great” to have a museum.

“The city is not in a place financially to make that happen,” he said. “I know I’d be supportive to make that happen. Especially in the downtown area.”

Phil Lingelbach, chairman of the Estacada Development Association, said a museum is “something we really need.”

“There’s a real vibrant history in this town and I think people would be interested in coming out and looking at it,” he said.

Lingelbach pointed to the Sandy Historical Museum, which he said operates mostly through local funding, as a good example for Estacada.

“I think the kids in this community are lacking so much not even knowing their history,” Arnold said.

“I would love to see it back, I would,” she said of the museum.

Joanne Broadhurst of the Jacknife-Zion-Horseheaven Historical Society, which operates Philip Foster Farm, explained that while she has sensed that people would like another museum, no one seems to have taken it on.

“There’s interest but no one has really got together and said ‘Let’s do it!’ I guess,” she said.

Adams, Burcham and Morgan all said they would like for there to be another museum.

Volunteer Lt. David Long of the Estacada Fire Department said he is interested in starting a museum under a new nonprofit designation, and and has been gauging interest with the Estacada Parks & Recreation Commission.

“I’m looking into doing that,” he said before admitting, “I haven’t been working on it very hard yet.”

When contacted by email to see if the city would ever consider housing a new museum in a city building Dodrill responded, “If there was space available someone would have to hammer out some really clear guidelines about who owns the “stuff” and who is responsible for it. As we discussed earlier this was one of the main problems before... and no one could agree on those questions.”



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