The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum
The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, located at E. 12114 Sprague Avenue, is a pleasant surprise. It is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm. Tucked between an old tavern and a dentures clinic, the museum sits inside the quaint Opportunity Township Hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Above the museum’s entrance an old plastered sign reads, “Anno Opportunity 1912”. Upon entering the museum, Jayne Singleton, the museum director, greets me and allows me to peruse the exhibits.
With roughly one to two-hundred square feet per exhibit and artifacts covering every inch of wall space, one must take it all in for a moment. The first presentation is labeled “Electrifying the Modern Woman.” Pictures of the Pacific Northwest’s leading ladies adorn the walls; Mary Arkright Hutton, a suffrage leader; Matilda Greenfield Johnson Stegner Narup, who ran the only store on Trent; and Stella Schafer Torrey, who operated the Spokane Valley Maternity Home. Faded white dresses of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century pose on manikins in the corner. Antique toasters, scales, and kitchen appliances fill a display case and old, worn bibles lay across a table next to rocking chair. A turn of the century, black dress is an example of the common color of wedding dresses before the Victorian era, when white became the fashion. A nineteen-twenties radio show plays music from the 1930s before it is interrupted by a White King soap ad. This tiny room transports me back in time.
Across from the “Modern Woman” room, “Ye Old Book Shop” displays Spokane Valley books for sale. Above, old dolls eerily rest on a balcony, peeking through wooden beams. A section on Spokane orchards showcases a ladder used by orchard workers and a display of pictures of Valley farms fill the wall. Just a few feet to the right stands an eight-foot Shell gasoline pump introducing a Felts Field display. The museum is proud to present a log book from Lt. Hick’s flights and points the reader to a signature, although it is difficult to read. It is possibly the signature of James Buell Felts (1898-1927).
A new exhibit titled, “Under One Sky” tries to tell the story of the Valley during the nineteenth century. Interestingly, the street I grew up on, Desmet, was named after Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet, whose picture is hung next to Chief Seltice. Arrow heads, moccasins, and gathering baskets are displayed while raccoon pelts and a deer head help to tell the story of fur trappers in the Pacific Northwest. Although the display cases are chock-full of Native American relics, the exhibit fails to give a history, but it does show some heritage from tribes like the Nez Perce.
The museum turns a corner and moves into the age of communication. Telephones and a switchboard sit next to a floor-to-ceiling miniature representation of a central telephone office. Behind the display is a distracting neon-magenta light. It is another new exhibit from the Smithsonian titled, “Man on the Moon” or maybe “Are We Alone”, or possibly “Earth From Space.” It is hard to tell what the title is with all the signs on the walls but the black-lit room and Star Wars music pushes me inside. A countdown to the moon landing plays on a computer. Satellite photos from NASA and images from the Mars Rover “Curiosity” present images of space. “Where were you on July 20, 1969?” a sign asks.
The space exhibit marks the end of the trail but Jayne explains how the archive is located in the back. Central Valley High School pictures from the early 1940s cover the walls and high school yearbooks line the shelves. The archive is open to the public and includes miscellaneous books and pictures about the Spokane Valley and surrounding areas. A patron sifts through deeds of St. Joseph’s cemetery while Jayne explains her historical background and then sees me out.
The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum is a happy, optimistic place. There is no evidence of President Hays’ executive order to relocate Native Americans to the Spokane Reservation in 1881. The museum is romanticized and is intended for an audience who wants to go back to a “simpler time,” rather than to get an education. The museum’s audience can range from school age to elderly and everyone can find something to marvel at.
This tiny local museum appears insignificant from the outside and although it is not the Smithsonian, it is packed with historic relics and is a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon, or hour. Plastic cows mingle with sewing machines and a taxidermy, white owl dangles from the ceiling. It is just the kind of place to discover a fragment of local history.