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Back to the source: Author of state’s archival history to share journey at history meeting | Photo gallery
“For the Fall City Historical Society—Enjoy this archival journey through history, though Washington’s documents,” writes Lorraine McConaghy, just before signing her name on the second page of Fall City’s copy of her new book.
McConaghy, Public Historian with the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, presented the local society with “New Land, North of the Columbia,” a hardcover book that explores the seminal moments of Washington’s history through primary documents—everything from marriage certificates and telegraph receipts to newspaper clippings, blueprints and fruit box labels.
To write it, she delved into the state’s many local archives. McConaghy shares the fruits of that journey as the featured speaker at the Fall City Historical Society’s annual meeting, 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, at the Fall City Masonic Hall.
Setting out “to create an exhibit between bookcovers,” McConaghy packed a scanner to 50 different state archives, scanning more than 2,000 documents—“letters, menus, diary pages, every kind of public record.”
She brought them home, selected about 1,000, then taped them to the walls of her Kirkland house “so I could really see them face to face.”
Winnowing the selections, she knew there were some milestones that had to be in the book, such as the anti-Chinese agitation of the 1880s to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
At other times, McConaghy sought items that stood alone. She asked, “What’s the best document that I can find, that speaks for itself?”
Mosaic of history
McConaghy’s work sprung from collections managed by others on a local level.
“Archivists are the unsung heroes of every kind of research project,” McConaghy said.
Local historians are the guardians of community heritage, and their work “is absolutely vital,” McConaghy says. “If you lose the primary documents of the 1880s, in many ways, you lose the 1880s.”
While the Fall City Historical Society wasn’t part of McConaghy’s tour, it preserves the same sort of primary documents she relied on.
Those include some early hand-written legal documents from the Hance Moore family. Hance was Justice of the Peace for the Falls City Precinct, Territory of Washington, in the 1880s.
The society also keeps the only documentation, in the form of three glass plate negatives, of the Raging River Auto Camp, a brief but well-remembered camp site and swimming pool on the Raging River, before the dikes were put in place. Then there’s the digital scan of a one-page 1863 Civil War newspaper, printed on wallpaper and shared by the family of John Edward Herndon, who served in the war.
“We share the mission of preservation of local history,” said Society president Ruth Pickering. “Public historians like Lorraine help raise interest and awareness in the importance of preservation.”
“History is a grand mosaic of small bits that come together to make the whole picture,” Pickering told the Record in an e-mail interview.
Most “of the historical materials about this country are in the collections of small historical societies like us,” Pickering added. “It is important to recognize the importance of carefully storing and preserving these materials.”
Documents for the future
“New Land” begins with Washington’s territorial days, and delves into the printed words and pictures that accompanied statehood, boom times, busts and war.
Two pages and a spread of reproduced text depict the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, which acknowledges that Washington territory was Native American ground. Another page shows a time book from an Eastside hops farm.
Much of what McConaghy documented came from Washington’s families, passing on items of interest about their family members.
“All historical collections are basically family archival collections at their heart,” McConaghy said. “What people keep, give away, donate, that’s a case-by-case decision. Archives and libraries can so easily become overwhelmed with the obligation of caring for an archive.
“A community should support their local historical society as they collect, not just archives, but three-dimentional materials, costumes and artifacts,” she added. “Without the local repositories, the stories go away. No one can remember them all.”
Today’s increasingly paperless society poses some challenges for the archivist.
“Like with everything, there is an upside and a downside,” McConaghy said. “More and more, everywhere, the archival heritage is digitized and available to everyone. It’s no longer the province of scholars. It’s becoming more open.”
McConaghy’s journey went from the age of ink and vellum to the digital era. She found that new media have changed the nature of recording.
McConaghy searched online for U.S. patents, due to the sheer scale of the undertaking, and also searched for postcards in a Tacoma Public Library database.
“Everything else was from a file folder in an archive at a wooden table, with a scanner by my side,” she said.
“There’s only 400 documents in the book. There were 2,200 documents that I scanned. That’s one woman’s take. Anybody else would have done a different project that’s as unique.”
This was a personal challenge for McConaghy, who doesn’t drive.
“Could I go to Newport, Walla Walla, all of the places and just do this?” she said. “It was an extraordinary experience.”
She learned a lot about Amtrak and Greyhound buses, and met a lot of friends along the way.
“As you proceed, you learn and you change the way you work,” McConaghy said. “I worked on this two years, and I had a lot of time to get wounded and lick my wounds.”
People often don’t know what to do with the archival material that they have. McConaghy’s hope is that her visit gives Fall City Historical Society an opening to introduce its collection and let the public know that the society is there to help.
Pickering says the Society will use Lorraine’s appearance to emphasize the care they put into the preservation of their collections. The group welcomes the interest.
“Get in touch with us,” Pickering said. “We are always looking for volunteers interested in history, and wanting to be involved and to bring new ideas.”
In the coming year, the Fall City Historical Society plans to expand its website, with more reference materials and items from the collection visible online, increasing its accessibility.
The group is also actively fundraising through its newsletter announcing the annual meeting. You can follow the society on Facebook.
• Fall City Historical Society’s annual meeting will include a brief membership meeting to vote on board candidates. There will also be a display of interesting objects in the collection, most from a donation by Fall City resident Jack Kelley.
• “New Land, North of the Columbia” is available for $40 from Sasquatch Books, Seattle.
Researching Washington's historic original documents, MOHAI Public Historian Lorraine McConaghy found an employee time book kept by an Eastside hop farm in 1898, (above). She included the scans in her new book, "New Land, North of the Columbia," (cover) .
McConaghy will speak this month to the Fall City Historical Society, which keeps its own treasured primary documents.
Below is its copy of the 1863 Daily Citizen shows newspaper coverage during the United States Civil War. Bottom, one of a handful of surviving photos kept by Fall City documenting the Raging River Auto Camp, a vacation spot during the 1930s.