History of the Society and Museum

The Formation of the Society

In the fall of 1972 a group of influential Edmonds citizens gathered at the Yesteryears Restaurant, located on Main Street and Third Avenue. (This restaurant would later be known as Claire’s Pantry).  The purpose of the gathering was to discuss the possibility of forming a historical society and the creation of a museum to preserve the heritage of Edmonds and South Snohomish County.  Unified in their determination to bring this about, some of the participants who were members of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce approached that organization with the request that it offer sponsorship for this effort. The Chamber agreed and provided $100 to be used to cover costs associated with the formation of a historical society.

Chet Bennett, a local attorney agreed to draw up and file the Letters of Incorporation pro bono. On February 22, 1973 Secretary of State A. Ludlow Kramer affixed the seal of the State of Washington to the Articles of Incorporation thus creating The Edmonds-South Snohomish County Historical Society (ESSCHS).

The articles listed Norma Whaley as the incorporator and the initial Board of Directors numbered nine (9): LeRoy Middleton, Jim Warren, Doug Egan, Margaret Douglas, Norma Whaley, Loren Bartlett, Harold Seaborg, Bernard J. Sigler, William Goulder.

The purposes of the corporation were listed as:

  1. To stimulate interest in the historical origins of the City of Edmonds and its environs
  2. To preserve. Protect, and display artifacts and memorabilia which depict this history
  3. To invite the active sponsorship of groups and individuals in the promotion of this Community Project
  4. To develop a permanent Museum for the purpose of displaying items of historical interest to the general public
  5. To encourage scholars and other interested citizens in the pursuit of historical research
  6. To make the history of Edmonds and its environs available to every segment of our population
  7. To stimulate and promote interest in the social, economic and cultural development of the City of Edmonds

The first official meeting of the Board of Directors took place on March 22 1973.  The pro temp officers were Doug Egan President, LeRoy Middleton VP,  and Mary Neilsen Sec/treas. Mary was designated the registered Agent. Norma Whaley, who served as the first volunteer Director of the museum was designated Board Chair. The first order of business was to approve the By-laws of the Corporation which had been created simultaneously with the Articles of Incorporation. Officers were elected to a one year term and Directors were elected for a three year term.  This practice continues to the present time. The initial funding for the organization was membership dues and the rates were set at this meeting. Bernard Siegler agreed to work on the process of getting a 501c3 designation for the Society. The final work of that meeting was to agree to work with Mayor Harve Harrison to secure the Carnegie Library Building,  (create link) owned by the City, for the Society to develop into a museum.

May 1st 1973 marked the second official meeting of the Society Board. It once again was at Yesteryears restaurant and it was agreed that they would meet there monthly on the First Thursday of the month at noon.  A “set lunch” would be provided for $1.25 to allow for quick service.  Minutes show that in March the City Council had agreed to transfer use of the library building over to the Society and work was moving forward on a lease for the building. Harold Seeborg was named Building Committee chairman.  

By July there was good news and bad news.  The good news was that the first one year lease had been signed. The plans being made for the process of converting the Library Building into a Museum could move forward and volunteers could start working on the transformation anytime they were ready. The bad news was the IRS had rejected the non-profit designation request saying the purposes defined in the Articles of Incorporation didn’t meet the standards for a 501c3 organization. The Articles would have to be amended. The Board drafted new language for the Articles and they were presented to the membership for approval which passed unanimously.  The Amended Articles were certified by the State on November 2 1973.

The revised purpose states:

“This Society (a non-profit corporation) is organized and operated exclusively for educational purposes within the meaning of section 501c3 of the 1964 Internal Revenue Code; to gather, preserve and display artifacts and memorabilia relating to and concerned with the history and origins of the City of Edmonds and South Snohomish County (Washington) area, for the education, training, instruction of individuals and general public and to that end, develop a museum to house and serve as a place for which and in which such instruction may be carried out.”

A request was immediately sent to the IRS for reconsideration based on this new language and the Society’s tax exempt status was granted January 24, 1974.

In the meantime the Official Grand Opening of the Museum took place on August 3, 1973. After that it was open on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 pm.

By the end of 1973 the Society had 37 members providing $550 in dues, and $1200 in donations and other receipts. It had a projected 1974 budget of $2,775 and hoped to have 125 members by the end of the year. The first Annual meeting of the Society was held in the Museum February 20, 1974.

The Creation of the Edmonds Historical Museum

From 1962 until 1972 the City had operated its Parks and Recreation Department from the “old” library building. After the original library was relocated to new facilities, temporary walls were built on the upper level to create office spaces.  Parks and Rec provided some space on the lower level to local artists. There was still no internal passage from the upper floor to the lower one. During this time the Coterie Club had established the Edmonds Art Festival and it took place on the Library grounds and inside the lower level.

Obviously, the transition from its use in 1972 to a museum operated by a separate organization created some challenges. The City ultimately moved its Parks and Rec Department to the Francis Anderson Center and Artists were offered rental space there as well.  However, plans were well on their way for the 1973 Art Festival so the Society agreed to host the Festival on the library site for one year. This proved to be a benefit to them because they were able to spread word about the new Museum and solicit memberships from all those attending the Festival. They created a mini exhibit on the lower level and it was reportedly very well received and generated a lot of interest in the whole project.

During most of 1973 the dedicated volunteers who were creating the museum worked diligently to collect artifacts and documents that could be part of the initial displays.  In the beginning only the upper level housed displays. The lower level was used for storage and the development of Exhibits. Some areas of the lower area were still controlled by the city where they also stored items.  Everything moved from one level to the other had to be transferred outside and up the central stairway.

A very successful grand opening took place on August 3, 1973 and the Museum has been an important asset to the city and community ever since.

By 1975 the Board felt it was time to develop the space in the lower level into exhibit areas. Up to then the building had been provided on an annual lease basis. The Society approached the City about extending the length of the lease and turning over the entire lower level to the organization. The City agreed and in July of 1976 the first 5 year lease was established with a provision that the Museum must extend its hours of operation to four days a week.

Worried about the security of the exhibits, the Society had iron gates fabricated and placed at the entrance to the upper floor prior to the opening. They were paid for with a grant from the Edmonds Rotary. When plans were made to open the lower level to the public a matching iron gate was created to secure the separate entrance located under the stairwell that became the main lower level entrance.

The desire to have an internal connection between the floors was ever present. In 1976 a discussion took place to build a stairway between the levels but it was finally tables because of the cost and the amount of space that would be required. Finally in 1979 the Society asked the city to consider adding an elevator. Because the Building was on the National Registry of Historic Places, permission had to be given for the addition of the elevator shaft. Since it would bring the building into ADA compliance permission was received in 1980 to add the elevator onto the back of the building. It still took several years to add the elevator. It was finally completed in 1985 and for the first time in the history of the building the two floors were connected.

1979 was also dubbed “the year of the bell” as it was that year that, after much “wrangling”, the school district turned the historic school bell from the Edmonds Elementary School over to the Society.  The bell was displayed for many years, but was being greatly impact by exposure to the environment. It was placed in storage in (year?)

The museum was operated as a completely all volunteer organization by a group of very dedicated people for many years. Norma Whaley, Vivian Smith and Millie Engels all served as unpaid Museum Directors devoting hundreds of hours to maintaining the exhibits and enlarging the artifacts collection. Finally, in 1985? The Board determined the endeavor had grown to the point where a staff person was needed. The first paid, part time Director was hired in 1990?  X years later the position was turned into a full time position. The responsibility of caring for the priceless artifacts appropriately was seen as a top priority and it was agreed someone with proper knowledge in this area was essential so in 20xx a second part time Collection Manager position was added.

The museum operated with the temporary walls installed by the City still in place until 2010?? when the Society totally refurbished the upper level. It has now been restored to the way it originally looked when it was a library except for the bookshelves. The space now hosts rotating exhibits that are changed 4 times a year. Artifacts from the museums extensive collect are incorporated into these seasonal displays.

In 2015 the Society undertook the renovation of the south front yard of the building creating a plaza as a gathering place for the community.  Completed in 2016, it became the Society’s gift to the city to commemorate the City’s 125th anniversary. The plaza displays a history of the city and the historic school bell from the original Edmonds Elementary School House. After years of being in storage it has been restored for the enjoyment of the community and future generations. It stands as a symbol of the importance of preserving historic artifacts and the legacy the founders of the Historical Society created for the people of Edmonds and South Snohomish County.