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A renewal of color for Snoqualmie's 76-year-old Story Pole totem | Photos
On a spring day more than 20 years ago, Gregory Thomas equipped himself with paint, brushes and a ladder and walked to the Snoqualmie totem pole.
As a totem carver and a Native American—Thomas is a Thompson River Salish—Thomas has a sense for the art form. Asked by a friend, ‘Old Man’ Kelley, to restore the aging carving, Thomas agreed.
Then-mayor Jeanne Hansen supplied the materials for Thomas’s project.
“I repainted it the way it was before,” Thomas said. In bright, primary colors, “I redid everything, just like it was.”
The last time Snoqualmie’s totem, technically called a “story pole,” received any TLC, at Thomas’ hands, may well have been the first time. The 1936 pole, created by Fall City craftsman Hugh H. Hinds, is believed to have had only the one touch-up—until now.
Locals including Thomas, who still lives a block from the carving, and Charles Peterson, a Snoqualmie city councilman, have noticed the pole’s deteriorating condition.
This winter, Peterson successfully pushed for work on the pole to begin as a companion project to Snoqualmie’s upcoming Phase 2 improvements to downtown.
City workers dug up the totem on Tuesday, Feb. 28, and it’s now laid out at the Public Works building, awaiting a year-long restoration project, giving the pole a new lease on life.
“People need to know it was here, forever,” Peterson says. “It’s a focal point for citizens and tourists, it’s educational for both. I want to keep it here, as long as possible.”
Chances are probably high that few drivers in Snoqualmie who even notice the story pole are aware of its storied history.
The pole was commissioned during the Great Depression, at a time when downtown Snoqualmie looked much different. At that time, according to city historian Dave Battey, local Kiwanians were working to beautify and improve the downtown. They worked with the city to create the parklike area and angled parking beside the railroad depot.
But one Snoqualmie resident, a Valley pioneer of 1898, George Foster Kelley, wanted to go a step further. He decided the city needed a totem pole, offered to assume the costs for crafting and maintaining it, then went to his friends and neighbors and raised subscriptions for funds. Hinds, the creator of the large Fall City totem, carved it.
The totem has outlasted all of its contemporaries. The trees around it have grown massive with time, making the roughly 10-foot carving seem shorter than it really is.
The pole seems to have narrowly missed major damage when big branches fell during the January ice and wind storms.
Thomas has noted the worsening condition, but, all things considered, “it looks like it’s in good shape,” he said. “The trees are protecting it.”
What’s being done
According to Snoqualmie Assistant Planner Nicole Sanders, sealants have worn away, and the wood is deteriorating. The damaged wood will be filled and bonded, stained and painted to match the original design. Once the pole has dried for a year, it would be fixed and reinstalled. Restoration could run about $5,000, and the city will likely seek grants to pay for the task.
When it’s ready to return, Peterson’s vision includes plaques, a raised base and nearby seating, incorporating the pole into the grand vision of a public plaza and boardwalk along the rail depot (See related story).
“The story pole is part of our local heritage,” Sanders told the Record. “If it were to deteriorate beyond repair, it would be an interesting element in our city and its history that would be irreparably lost. Given that the restoration preliminarily looks relatively inexpensive, and that the Story Pole is a unique part of our downtown, the benefits look like they would outweigh the costs.”
Visiting Snoqualmie this winter, former Valley resident Amanda Cox walked up to the pole with her young daughter Hailey, pointing out the carving.
“I’ve come here since I was a little kid,” said Cox. To her, the pole is special. Cox expressed concern that restoration not harm it.
“It’s a sign of Snoqualmie,” she said.
Above, Snoqualmie councilman Charles Peterson visits the downtown totem pole in January. The 76-year-old carving was pulled out of the ground last week for a months-long renewal project timed to coincide with downtown work.
Below, Gregory Thomas, the last person to touch up the Snoqualmie Story Pole, some 20 years ago.