Happy Museum Day!
In an ideal world, you would celebrate this day with a visit to one (or both!) of Issaquah’s two local history museums. Later this summer, the museums will be open to family groups who want to schedule a visit. For now, let me introduce you to the buildings and the history behind the Issaquah History Museums, and we’ll hope to see you soon!
The Issaquah History Museums are housed in two buildings located in historic downtown Issaquah. The Gilman Town Hall—a small, house-like building on Andrews Street—was built in 1888 as a rental hall for weddings and celebrations. It was used as the Town Hall from 1898 until 1930. Because Issaquah was such a small town, the Town Hall functioned for a variety of purposes, including a school, church, polling place, court of law, and library. In the evenings, the young men of town would hold wrestling matches there. Behind the Gilman Town Hall is the town’s second jail, which was used from 1914 until 1930, when both a new Town Hall and jail were built. The Gilman Town Hall was a private home from 1930 until 1972, when the City purchased it again. Currently, exhibits at the Gilman Town Hall tell the story of Issaquah’s growth and development. The building also serves as the main offices of the organization, and the workplace of all museum staff.
The Issaquah Depot is centrally located near Issaquah’s City Hall and Depot Park. The Depot was constructed in 1889 in order to connect Seattle enterprises with the coal deposits known to exist in the mountains around Issaquah. Exhibits at the Depot today tell the story of how the railroad transformed Issaquah from a quiet farming community to a bustling coal town.
While the history of the Issaquah History Museums’ facilities stretches back into the 1800s, the organization itself began as the Issaquah Historical Society in 1972. As the town went through a period of rapid growth and development in the late 1960s and early 1970s, long-time residents and inspired newcomers came together, seeking a way to preserve their community’s rich past. Early volunteers gathered artifacts, photographs, and stories that illustrated and illuminated Issaquah’s history, and went on to share that history with the community through exhibits, publications, and programs.
The all-volunteer organization was also instrumental in Issaquah’s earliest historic preservation efforts. These dedicated individuals restored the Issaquah Depot, bringing back the original beauty of the 1889 building, and then went on to renovate the Gilman Town Hall. Both buildings were established as museums where residents and visitors alike could experience Issaquah’s rich past.
Today the Issaquah History Museums are operated by a small staff and a cadre of volunteers. At the core of IHM’s exhibits, programs, and website are the 36,000 photographs and artifacts that make up the community’s collection. Each of these 36,000 items tells its own story about Issaquah’s past. One of the most valuable recent additions to the collection is more than 100 years’ worth of the original back issues of the Issaquah Press, which are publicly available online.
Although the museums themselves are currently closed, the Issaquah History Museums are still working to discover, preserve, and share the history of Issaquah and the surrounding area. Starting in July, we will be offering timed-entry visits for family groups to both the Gilman Town Hall and the Issaquah Depot. Keep an eye on our website and social media pages for more information about museum visits, virtual programming, volunteering opportunities, and online resources.