On June 27, 1959 the Chelan County Historical Society opens a museum in Cashmere to preserve and exhibit the Indian and pioneer artifacts of Willis Carey (d. 1955). The city donates land, and community planning and the volunteer labor of businesses and individuals go into construction of the initial building. Eventually the grounds will contain a pioneer village consisting of 20 original early structures exhibiting the objects and way of life of a bygone era. The building will be expanded and an Outdoor Riverwalk added to interpret Native American life. The complex, now called Cashmere Pioneer Village and Museum, will become one of the outstanding small museums of the Pacific Northwest.
One Man's Devotion
For 65 years, Willis Carey had garnered Indian and pioneer artifacts, amassing one of the largest private collections in the United States. Unlike some collectors, Carey enjoyed the respect and affection of the Native Americans. He adopted an Indian orphan, who died in a hunting accident while still in his teens. In 1955, Carey had terminal cancer, and John McDonald and other local leaders began to worry about the disposition of his collection. In late August, they approached him with the suggestion that he donate it to a new museum that they proposed to establish. Carey seemed very relieved. He signed an agreement, and died the next day, on August 31, 1955.
From there, John McDonald, Mayor Eric Braun, and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Rotary, Grange and other organizations began working to develop the museum. Attorney J. Harold Anderson donated time to draw up a constitution and bylaws for the Chelan County Historical Society, founded in 1956, which would sponsor the museum.
Building a Museum
The site ultimately chosen was a former migrant labor camp at the east end of Cashmere. A museum would make a much more attractive entry to the town, and the intent of the historical society, according to its president, John McDonald, was “to make the surroundings like a park” (The Seattle Times). Because the land was low and subject to flooding, it would have to be filled. The committee arranged with a contractor who was working on the new highway bypass of the town to donate his time and heavy equipment to fill the building site, a task that was finished in two days. Although there was a fundraising drive, not enough money came in to hire the construction work done, so volunteer carpenters and cement workers came to the rescue.
During this period, the county commissioners designated the Chelan County Historical Society responsible for protecting historical sites. At the time, the new Blewett Highway was under construction and was going to obliterate the ghost town of Blewett, once a mining community of more than 1,500 people. The plan was to burn the two remaining buildings.
Instead, the historical society arranged to move them to the museum grounds. This became the beginning of the pioneer village. One of these buildings, the assay office, is one of the most popular on the site, which now includes a general store, school, barber shop, post office, saloon, blacksmith shop, jail, and other buildings, all furnished to interpret the functions they served during pioneer days. All of these buildings, except the St. Francis Xavier Mission, which is a replica built by volunteers from the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, are originals moved from other nearby locations. Of particular interest historically is the Horan cabin, built in 1872 by Samuel C. Miller, where Washington Congressman Walt Horan (1898-1966) was born.
The Stoffel Waterwheel
A favorite feature of the museum complex is the Stoffel waterwheel/Burbank Homestead waterwheel, which was moved from the Wenatchee River above Monitor. The original waterwheel was made of wood and from 1897 to 1914 lifted water to an orchard and cattle farm. Then a Columbia River sternwheeler captain, Paul Stoffel, brought part of the orchard along with the waterwheel. He decided to enlarge it as a steel structure, partly with salvaged materials from old burned steamboats rusting in Wenatchee. The new 29-foot-high wheel had 24 buckets that could lift 400 gallons of water a minute.
Over the years, even this larger and stronger wheel began to suffer damage, especially during the devastating flood of 1948. As the museum expanded, Karl Stoffel offered the waterwheel if a way could be found to move it. Taking it apart and reassembling it would be expensive and difficult. At that time, the Schmitten Lumber Company of Cashmere was engaged in helicopter logging. Rollie Schmitten suggested using a helicopter, and the Rotary Club underwrote the project. As Karl Stoffel said in 1973, “The wheel was moved and put into working order and has been a wonderful new attraction at the museum” (Ingraham, 36). It is located in the Outdoor Riverwalk area and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.
The Museum Today
Today the museum hosts visitors from around the world, tour groups and school classes. On special occasions throughout the year, such as the fall Apple Days Festival, volunteer docents dress as pioneers, blacksmiths, miners, etc. to reenact “the lifestyles, trades and crafts” (Museum website) of the early pioneers and interpret the functions of the various buildings. Its mission statement reads: “To collect and preserve the history, both natural and human, of the local region for education, research and public viewing in an informative, exciting and secure manner” (Museum website).
The Willis Carey collection, the nucleus of the original museum, is now housed in a wing of the considerably expanded building. The Cashmere Pioneer Village and Museum is an outstanding example of what small-town ingenuity and hard work can accomplish.