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Community volunteers reimagine and reenergize Greater Leavenworth Museum

By on September 28, 2020 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments
Matt Cade and Bobbi Ferg stand next to the new blended image of Leavenworth spanning a century.

Story by 

Marlene Farrell

photos by 

kevin farrell

If the Greater Leavenworth Museum were a steam locomotive as seen in some of their exhibit photographs, its fuel would be the energy of a core of dedicated volunteers.

Not only did Matt Cade, Margaret Neighbors, Bobbi Ferg and other members of the Upper Valley Historical Society (UVHS) relocate their museum to a prominent downtown Leavenworth location, they also reimagined it from its previous River Haus space to its new layout that fosters chronological flow. 

But like a train delayed from reaching the station, the Greater Leavenworth Museum has not been able to open its doors to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After initially pushing the opening date from May to September, the new expectation is to open when Chelan County reaches Phase 2.

So what will visitors soon get to see?

This museum is dedicated to sharing the region’s rich and rugged past as well as the secrets of Leavenworth’s transformation into a premier tourist destination. It didn’t happen overnight. Success was not guaranteed; it was a huge gamble.

When entering the Greater Leavenworth Museum, a large photograph begins your journey through time. This image blends two photos of Leavenworth taken over a century apart. If you could step into that scene, you’d start on contemporary Front Street below the Bavarian façade and head toward the frontier past and Leavenworth’s roots as an outpost to industry. Icicle Ridge towers, steadfast, above it all.

The next large display area is dedicated to the Wenatchi, or P’squosa, the first people of the Upper Wenatchee Valley. Photos and artifacts showcase the Wenatchi’s usage of local flora and fauna, including camas roots and tule, salmon and deer. 

“The current information serves as placeholders for now,” explained Matt. 

The museum is partnering with the Wenatchi tribe, making sure their story is not confined to the past. The exhibit will likely include story baskets, which have regional and family influences in terms of materials, tools used and designs. Contemporary baskets, made using traditional methods, link today’s artisans to their ancestors.

Visitors will learn about the region from Blewett, Dryden and Peshastin to Plain, Lake Wenatchee and Stevens Pass. Small towns popped up to support the industries of mining, logging, trapping, sheep ranching and orchards. Some towns weathered the ups and downs of fickle economics, while others faded away.

Local trivia will delight history buffs as well as fill in a greater understanding of the region’s colorful past and culture. For instance, one can learn how Leavenworth got its name, which was a disproportionate tribute to a man who spent little time here. 

Other area names are also tied to individuals, but some like “Icicle” descend from Wenatchi words, yielding a deeper meaning.

Visitors move from the green room of earlier history to a room shaded Bavarian flag blue to learn the story of the Leavenworth’s rebirth after a decline and near demise in the mid-20th Century. It happened because diehard residents could see beyond the sleepy town to something greater. 

Courageous members of local women’s clubs, the visionary duo of Bob Rodgers and Ted Price and business leaders invested in sweeping changes, the most prominent being the adoption of Bavarian architecture and the initiation of festivals, first one, then three and now enough to highlight every season and holiday.

A prominent ambassador of Leavenworth at festivals here and beyond has been the Autumn Leaf Festival’s Royal Lady, with an outstanding local citizen chosen each year. An exhibit, with eye-catching dresses representing the last six decades, explains her significance.

Margaret Neighbors has a family contribution to the museum — a drehorgel, or barrel organ. Her father had it built in England. For entertainment, he would insert a paper roll with a punched out “tune,” crank the handle and create music as bellows blew air over 25 wooden pipes. 

Margaret inherited it and played it at some Leavenworth festivals. It passed to Ray Laramie, who continued to share the drehorgel’s European charm with visitors, until donating it to the museum.

Collaboration is key to sharing a collective history. For one, the museum will display photos loaned from the Northwest Ski Hall of Fame of skiers inducted on a biannual basis. Additionally, the partnership with the Nutcracker Museum, both landlord and neighbor, is at a fruitful beginning. An anticipated synergy is expected to draw more visitors to both.

The UVHS volunteers had to brush off their carpentry and painting skills to keep the move and remodel costs to a minimum. 

Bobbi Ferg honed the meticulous work of archive cataloging. She worked closely with Chris Erlich, a professional exhibit curator, whom UVHS hired for help with planning and design of the space and displays. “I was her shadow for two solid days,” she said.

Chris was impressed by everyone’s efforts. “Working with the volunteers that make small museums possible is one of the best things about my work. Bobbi, Matt and many others gave tremendous amounts of time to the exhibit, the move, the remodeling and fundraising. The result is a quality asset.”

Certainly, the gems of history, if not gathered, can be lost forever. Now, instead, they are safeguarded in the Greater Leavenworth Museum. And this is only the beginning.

 “Large display cabinets in our Community Gallery will display rotating exhibits of artifacts and photos from each of the Upper Valley communities,” said Cade. “To help us get this done, we need local artifacts donated from community members to tell their stories.”

 The UVHS members have ideas that go beyond the walls of the museum. 

“We plan to add a phone app that will display historical facts, before and after images of downtown Leavenworth buildings, and self-guided walking and auto tours. Also, we are working with the Chamber of Commerce on a ‘Then and Now’ program to explain the town’s changes over the past half-century.”

 True to their predecessors from the 1950’s, the museum team is visionary, giving locals and visitors a chance to learn something new and have fun while doing it.

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