Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society

I know you have been hearing a lot about the 50 year anniversary of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society celebration on October 4, 2014 celebration.  So I thought sharing a little bit of the history would whet your appetite for the History Rocks event.

The Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society presently located in the basement of the Old St. Nicholas Catholic Church, Gig Harbor, began in late 1963.  Three member of the local chapter of the American Association of University Women, Gail Reed, Jewel Holsinger and Esther Snowden met as a study group to gather local Gig Harbor Peninsula history.  Their enthusiasm for this project led them to decide to form a history club open to all.  Each invited several others and the first meeting was held at Holsinger’s with Bruce LeRoy, Director of the Washington State Historical Society as speaker.  This was February 18, 1964.  Of this group, Esther Snowden and Barbara Pearson are still members.

At the March 10th meeting the group decided to call themselves the Peninsula Study Club with monthly Tuesday morning meetings during the school year.  Field trips to include the children were planned during the summer.

Older long-time residents were invited to the meetings to share early memories and experiences with the group, and categories of local history began to develop.  The first study was of the fishing industry and its history here.  Next was the history and data about the numerous small cemeteries followed by churches, schools and old freight and passenger boats.  Papers on these topics were written and presented at meetings and thus began manuscript files.  Jean Lyle and Gwen Ash complied a questionnaire to send out or include in interviews to begin a biography collection.

Some artifacts along with files of information began to accumulate and members did the best they could to store them in their homes.  In 1968 club members began to discuss the need for a museum.  It wasn’t until July 1974, that they found a small room in the rear of the Empire Building, and rented it from Ken Hore for $12 a month.  We furnished it with used office furniture and two display cases.  During this time, Vicki Tart assigned her eighth grade Goodman Middle School class a project on local  history with the publication of a book as the goal.  This resulted in the first volume of local history being printed when these eighth graders were seniors.  Most of the photographs are from the GHPHS collection.  It is still available in its third printing.

Incorporation of the Peninsula Historical Society took place on June 3, 1970.  The area of interest includes that part of Pierce County on the Gig Harbor Peninsula.  Membership expanded and projects of all sorts were undertaken to earn funds to finance a museum and build a photograph and slide collection.  The society provides lectures, slide shows and exhibits for the community and schools.  Class visits to the museum are frequently scheduled.

In 1976 a bicentennial quilt was made by members.  Marilyn Arnold did the design, and a successful raffle was held.  The society published a calendar for eleven years with local artists drawing from our old photographs.

In April 1977 the society moved into a room in the basement of the new Gig Harbor City Hall, and regular hours were established.  When that space was no longer available, we rented a small log cabin on Harborview Drive until April 1982.  By this time, a committee from St. Nicholas Catholic Church became active to save and restore the old church rather than allowing it to be razed.  Clara McCabe spearheaded the committee, and arrangements were worked out that the society might lease the basement of this historic structure.

The summer of 1982 was spent renovating the basement with much community cooperation headed by Barbara Pearson and Joan Bassett, and on October 3 we moved in.  We have a collection of manuscripts, clippings and photographs for public research Wednesdays through Saturday afternoons.  Arveida Livingston is office manager and Ruth Ann Smith heads a staff of volunteers.

Gladys Para, June Doherty and the late Smith Snyder were instrumental in producing the present exhibits with a focus on our fishing heritage.  Joe Hoots mounted the Jack Reed collection of hand boat-building tools.

Our last museum director, Gladys Para, edited the book Bridging the Narrows  by Joe Gotchy, a history of both Narrows Bridges.  Mr. Gotchy worked on both bridges, and provided a colorful and knowledgable  account of their construction.

At the annual membership meeting in October of 1994, our name was officially changed to include the words “Gig Harbor” to more clearly define our location.  The need was apparent when representatives attended regional or state-wide meetings and found Peninsula Historical Society prompted further inquiry.

The Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society has grown to around 150 menbers.  Conferences and workshops are attended so that the society can continue to grow and serve our community.  The society is governed by nine officers and trustees.  Museum hours are from 1 to 4 pm Wednesday through Saturdays, staffed by 31 volunteers under the direction of Jean Olson.

6/3/92 ba. for A History of Pierce County, Washington, Vol. III, Heritage League of Pierce County

1/23/96 ba. Revised & 
© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

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