The keepers of Oregon’s history will celebrate their own historical milestone next week.
It was a little more than 20 years ago that Eeda Lumley got the idea to form a local historical society when she saw construction crews tearing down Sarbacher’s Blacksmith shop on Main Street, where Pizza Pit is today.
“I said, ‘Oh gosh, look at those beautiful big (support) beams coming down,’” recalled Lumley, an Oregon native who’s now 83. “We were losing too many of those buildings at the time. It seems like they were coming down all over.”
Feeling the need to preserve Oregon’s past, Lumley called some friends and acquaintances and asked if anyone wanted to form a historical society.
In September 1987, nearly 20 people showed up for a start-up meeting at Village Hall.
“I just wanted to find out if people were really interested,” Lumley said. “And they were.”
Now roughly 150 members strong, the Oregon Area Historical Society will celebrate the 20th anniversary of that early meeting Thurs., Sept. 13, at the society’s museum, 159 W. Lincoln St.
The event will bring together many of the people who helped the society get off the ground, and it will pay tribute to the volunteers who have donated time and money to keep the museum running over the years.
In addition, the event will include the unveiling of a new display at the museum devoted to Lyman Anderson, the farmer and local politician who passed away in October 2005. The display includes news clippings, pictures and a nod to Anderson’s ancestral ties to Nathanial Ames, the Revolutionary War veteran who is buried in Prairie Mound Cemetery.
“(Lyman) was really a wonderful man,” said Janet Keenan, who lives two doors down from the museum and is one of its primary caretakers. “He was highly thought of by so many people.”
Anderson, incidentally, gave the keynote address in May 1991 for the society when the group celebrated a different milestone – the dedication of its museum, which is the centerpiece of the society’s work.
The museum carries an interesting history of its own. It was once the site of the Oregon Hotel that burned down in 1906. A new building went up in 1908 and became a farm co-op before serving as office and warehouse space for several lumber companies.
It’s future as a warehouse for Oregon’s past was secured by Florice Paulson, a former president of the historical society who recently celebrated her 90th birthday. In 1989, Paulson purchased the building from Chase Lumber Co. for about $30,000 and donated it to the society.
After that, a tireless team of volunteers – led by Wes Wethal, Jim Larkin, Bob Keenan and Max and Stan Gefke – spent several years transforming the building into what is now an Oregon gem.
Janet Keenan recalled that when the museum first opened, its collection was pretty small.
“We even had Mason jars on display,” she said with a laugh.
But today, the basement and first floor are jammed with impressive collections of decades- or century-old farm implements, military uniforms, wedding or formal dresses, musical instruments, school desks and more. More inventory is stored upstairs.
Everything is catalogued, and there are bookshelves full of indexed obituaries, family histories, old high school yearbooks and newspaper clippings.
The museum is a regular stop for local elementary school field trips, and it draws visitors when it’s open for public tours on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays in the summer from 1 to 4 p.m. Visitors are often surprised by what they find, Keenan said.
“More than once I’ve had people come in and say, ‘I never dreamed it would be like this,’” she said.
Items on display at the museum come from many sources, Keenan said. Sometimes a single book or picture will arrive in the mail; other times artifacts come by the trunk-load. After that, it’s up to the society’s volunteers to label, catalog and display the items – a labor-intensive job they do for free.
“I do it because I love it,” Keenan said. “I’m proud of this museum.”
Paulson, who said poor health will keep her from attending next week’s anniversary, said she’s proud that the society has lasted 20 years and that the building she donated has become a repository of Oregon’s past.
Does she hope the society will last another 20 years?
“You bet your hide,” she said. “I hope it keeps on a long time.”