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My love affair with museums started early

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Elizabeth Drinker, a socially prominent Philadelphian, noted in a diary entry for Feb. 15, 1799, that her children planned a visit “this forenoon to Peels Museum.”

She went on to add “on some accounts I do not like it, there are some queer sights there.” Her reference was to Charles Willson Peale, the well-known portrait painter of the Revolutionary generation and the founder of an early American museum.
My own introduction to the world of museums occurred in Wenatchee, where as a young boy growing up I often rode my bike to the North Central Washington Museum, near Memorial Park in the building now occupied by the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival Association.

I don’t recall many “queer sights”, but I do know that I was especially attracted to the Native American Collection. As I grew older, I visited museums near and far, appreciating their offerings while also being entertained and educated.
Later still, as a member of the History Faculty at Oregon State University, where I spent most of my professional life, I chaired a University Certificate Program in Museum Studies.

With more than a casual interest in museums, I was delighted to learn after retiring and returning to Wenatchee with my wife Mary Ellen in 1997, that the near-by town of Mansfield was just then beginning to explore the possibility of establishing a local museum. Mary Ellen and I both graduated from Mansfield High School, and we remain firmly connected to the area via kith and kin.

Incorporated in 1911, the town owes its existence to James J. Hill’s decision to run a Great Northern branch line from Wenatchee in order to tap into a growing agricultural domain. Once the railroad arrived in 1909, Mansfield took on the appearance and role that it has more or less maintained ever since.

With a long and rich past, and with a railroad as centerpiece and life-line to the beyond, Mansfield provides a story worth remembering and retelling. Serious discussion looking toward the founding of a museum was under way by 1999. Through the efforts of dozens of local residents, coupled with the support of many others, first a plan and then a formal museum emerged. The Mansfield Museum opened to the public in 2005.

I like to think that Elizabeth Drinker would approve of what we have done. While relating the story of a place and a people over time, the Museum offers visitors very few “queer sights.”

In later columns, I’ll be reporting on our experiences and successes as we created our museum.

Darold Wax writes about the history of the Mansfield area. He can be reached at mewax@me.com

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