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The History of the Lake Stevens Historical Museum

To learn more about the history of the museum, click below

 NOTE: This 31 year old community built museum, along with the library building built in the 1940's, was torn down on June 18, 2021 by the City of Lake Stevens. Contents are now in a temporary storage facility on 12301 N Lakeshore Drive, Lake Stevens, WA until a new facility can be built. 


The museum construction was started in 1986, completed in 1989, and dedicated in September, on the 100th anniversary of Washington Statehood. Starting with a $1000 donation from Bob and Helen Lund of Glass by Lund, museum construction began. The first task was to tear down the lean-to on the site we were to use and expand the 10’x10’ cement floor. Because only limited time could be spent on it originally, and weather had to cooperate, construction moved very slowly at first. But by the time the museum was dedicated, more than 75 individuals and organizations had worked and contributed towards its completion. Gayle Whitsell, Keith Morgan, Al Kennaugh, Wes Kennaugh, and Ken Withrow provided a majority of the labor, but everyone who contributed in any way at all became a necessary member of the building team; each one was needed. In fact, Anne Whitsell was finishing some interior painting while Gayle was giving the welcome to the more than 200 people who braved the near 90 degree day and attended the dedication. We received material free or at cost from businesses such as Adams Hardware, received special deals on merchandise, and received donations of cash and artifacts from all over. The museum truly is a monument to community teamwork and involvement.

The museum starts to take form behind the library.

The Lake Stevens Historical Museum is known as one of the finest small-town museums in the state. Other historical societies that started or remodeled museums toured ours for ideas on how to build and show effective displays; several have copied our design. The “central lobby” area was designed to be used for rotating displays and newly donated artifacts. Two window displays can be used to accent the main exhibit’s theme or as separate display areas.

The museum has nine permanent displays covering eight facets of the  town’s history, highlighting early years; the impact of logging and mills on the area; education; recreation; and Mitchell’s Pharmacy,which was the hub of the community from 1920, until moving to Frontier Village in 1960. I am one of those people who saves everything; I have more of what people consider junk than does the average person. I don’t know what makes people do that, but the Historical Society is grateful for those with this “gift."

The doors and arch at the museum are from the "Pink Palace" which was home to many high school students from 1928 to 1979.

The Seattle Times
Wednesday, April 11, 1990
Historical `Gems' Are Worth Mining At Museum by Robert Humphrey


The new museum at Lake Stevens near Everett was presented with the annual Malstrom Award "for the outstanding project in preserving local history'' by the League of Snohomish County Historical Associations. Located in the old sawmill town of Lake Stevens, the museum is open each Friday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. and is a convenient destination for any Snohomish County family with an interest in local history.


As a result of dedicated volunteers and professional help from Lisa Hill-Festa of the Washington State Heritage Center, the completed project is "a little gem.'' The project, which resulted from five years of work and planning, was given the award named after Helmer Malstrom, longtime Everett historian and preservationist.


Built around a central lobby, individual displays include a replica of a local drugstore, complete with soda fountain, merchandise, bent-wire tables and chair for customers and an adjacent pharmacy with the original jars and scales to measure and compound prescriptions. A recreation room shows how locals did such activities as water-ski, fish and attend movies, and a replica of a classroom reflects the one-room school for fourth to sixth-grade students from nearby Hartford.


Featured are a working display of how "shake-splitters'' worked with froes, mallets, saws and shingle packers and a display that brings to view the early Finns, Norwegians, Swedes, German and the rest of us who were "just plain easterners.'' The museum also has a display of mounted or stuffed fish and birds native to the area, including the "landlocked silver salmon, and a children's play room, with dolls, toy table and chairs, tiny stove and kitchen.


The effort was a bootstrap and low-budget operation, boosted by the efforts of retired schoolteacher Gayle Whitsell and his wife, Anne, the photography work of Bruce and Edna Mae Savary, story lines that go with each exhibit and hundreds of "thank you'' notes by Bruce Kennaugh, the collection of birds and fish at Lake Stevens by local sportsman Ken Schetterand the photographic wall displays by Rod Slemmons.


With great local pride, the museum came to completion right on schedule and well within budget.


The Lake Stevens Journal produced a fine booklet called "Memory Lanes,'' celebrating the past and marking the completion and opening of this museum. It is for sale for $2, along with the opportunity to purchase any of the many photo displays all clearly marked and identified by number. To me, this is one of the most remarkable things about the Lake Stevens folks . . . they did not hide their photographic treasures in a back-room file cabinet and make copies available to anyone for a reasonable price.


The Lake Stevens area was once the site of two very busy logging camps and the one large sawmill operated by the Rucker Bros., who were among Everett's founders - railroad men, bankers and the folks who built the "biggest house'' on the "highest hill'' in Everett when it was known as Milltown.

When the Lake Stevens Mill burned down and the land was denuded, the area first reverted to summer homes, and eventually became a prized residential district resembling Mercer Island and the east side of Lake Washington.


Today, new homes abound, land values are skyrocketing, with bigger and more expensive homes to come.


But early life in the camps near Lake Stevens was rough. Loggers slept in bunkhouses, often heated by only a wood stove at one end and scented by the sweat of toil and straw-filled mattresses. It was no place to be ill or overly fastidious. If you were hurt badly, they shipped you down to tidewater at Everett and the hospital.


Most camps were known by the quality of the table they set and the variety of food. The Rucker Bros. had the reputation of being "good feeders.'' The first thing question men asked before signing on was, "How is the grub?''


At the time of logging near Lake Stevens, the steam donkey had come into wide use - no longer were the huge logs hauled by giant teams of oxen or multiple spans of heavy draft horses The steam donkey whipped those logs out of the brush to the railroad siding, where they were put on flat cars for delivery to the lake or downhill to the Snohomish River for towing to Everett.


It was dangerous work, but it paid well. Working a 10-hour day, living with perhaps 20 men in a crowded bunkhouse, the men saved up their energy and money for a weekend "blast'' at the nearby city of Snohomish or Everett.

Weekend needs often ran to getting a hot bath and a haircut and then seeking your own brand of excitement. The boss had the job of rounding up the crew and getting them all back to camp.


This museum at Lake Stevens has captured the essence of our early pioneer life. Plan to visit the museum. Bring the family. It's worth the trip.

``On the Main Line,'' Robert Humphrey's column about the history of South Snohomish County, appears the second Wednesday of each month in the North Times Today.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

This article was written 30 years ago but still does a good job of capturing what this community built museum is all about. The hours have been expanded to include Thurs 1:00-4:00 and many of those credited in the article with creating this museum are no longer with us, but as the author states: "This museum at Lake Stevens has captured the essence of our early pioneer life. Plan to visit the museum. Bring the family. It's worth the trip."

UPDATE: The museum is no longer open for the viewing of exhibits. We are looking forward to being able to open our new museum in the near future.

 "For some reason, Jim and Nancy Mitchell saved hundreds of items from the old downtown store; these were put in the museum 29 years after the pharmacy left its original location. For some reason, Gayle Whitsell saved doors and other things from the old high school affectionately known as the “Pink Palace” when that building was demolished; when you enter the museum, you go through the main doors and archway from the east entrance of the Pink Palace."

        -Bruce Kennaugh

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