Beyond ProjectWA: Monuments Project

On January 23rd this year, my ProjectWA partner-in-crime, Anthony Rovente, and I received an email from a guy named Tom Neville in Paris, France. He asked us if, “ProjectWA might like to go beyond WA.” It didn’t take long for Anthony and me to answer, “Why not?” – which is exactly what we said a year earlier when we came up with the idea for ProjectWA. A little more than three months later, that “Why not?” has turned into the Monuments Project, which we announced at a ceremony this week in the Columbia Room of the Legislative Building in the Washington State Capitol in Olympia, WA.

MonumentsProject_LogoSimilar to ProjectWA, the Monuments Project is an effort to tell history’s untold stories. In this case, the stories are about 29 Washingtonians who lost their lives in World War One and are buried in the Suresnes American Cemetery outside of Paris, maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. This time around, the students at Lopez Island School are working with students 5000 miles away at the American School of Paris (ASP).  Collectively, they will research and document the backgrounds of these Washingtonians who made the greatest sacrifice. On the Monuments Project website and, ultimately, the Monuments Project app, this transatlantic effort will uncover photos, letters, newspaper articles, speeches, draft documents and who knows what else.

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The Suresnes American Cemetery

For the past three months, Anthony, Tom, his instructional technology coach, Claude Lord, and I have been doing weekly Skype calls to plan this project. It quickly became clear that we would need access to as many historical archives as possible – in the U.S. and Europe. When I mentioned this to the Office of the Secretary of State, which oversees Legacy Washington and the Washington State Archives, they immediately offered their assistance. They were also in the process of planning an event at the State Capitol with the Washington State Historical Society to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entrance into WWI. So they invited us to announce and demonstrate the Monuments Project at the April 25th ceremony in Olympia.

We invited both Lopez and ASP students to participate in the WWI ceremony, which was heavily attended, with remarks from historian Lorraine McConaghy, State Senator (and history buff) Steve Conway, and Deputy Secretary of State, Greg Lane. Lopez student, Kayla McLerren, kicked off the event by leading the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Anthony and the students presented Monuments Project from the podium, while Tom, Claude and two of their ASP students presented via video. It was a site to behold – not only the use of technology to drive interest in history, but perhaps more fundamentally the example we were all setting for how the world should be collaborating across borders.

After the ceremony, we proceeded outside to lay a wreath at the WWI monument right outside the Legislative building. Then, Deputy Secretary of State, Greg Lane, treated the Lopez students to a tour of Secretary of State, Kim Wyman’s office. We learned some interesting history during that tour, including the fact that Secretary Wyman is only the second Republican woman to hold statewide office in Washington State (the first was 100 years ago).

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The Lopez Monuments Project Team with State Senator, Steve Conway, Pierce County

We also learned how the Secretary of State ended up with the sweet corner office in the Legislative building when it was built nearly 100 years ago. You guessed it, it was due to partisan politics. The Governor at the time was giving the State Legislature a hard time about spending so much money on the building’s furnishings – even touring the state with one of the opulent chairs they’d purchased for offices. Well, the Legislature had the last laugh: they placed the Governor’s office at the far corner of the building – the farthest distance from the Governor’s Mansion. The Secretary of State got what had originally been planned to be the Governor’s office.

Finally, a bit of fun. Deputy Secretary Lane taught us that the Secretary of State is responsible for the Washington State Seal. The official seal maker, which weighs about 50 pounds, sits in the corner of the office. Each of us got a chance to try it out, stamping our own gold seals.

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Creating my own Washington State Seal, with Deputy Secretary of State, Greg Lane

It was quite a day in Olympia. As we enter the centenary of The Great War, everybody is excited about the stories we’ll tell. Follow along at monumentsproject.org and on Instagram. The Monuments Project mobile app will launch in early June 2017.

 

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Five Lessons from a Two-Month Tour of Washington State

In mid-June, from the northern tip of Lopez Island, my family and I drove our ProjectWA-branded RV onto a Washington State Ferry to begin a two-month exploration of the Evergreen State. After reflecting on our 2000-mile adventure, I would like to share a few of the lessons we took away from the experience.

1. We can live on less. Much less.

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There’s nothing like living for two months with three other humans in a 24-foot motorhome to remind you of how little we really need to survive. With no room for excess, everything was a ration: food, water, power, clothes and personal space. In some ways, all these constraints made daily life easier. With only the color of the day’s ProjectWA t-shirt to decide on, getting dressed was pretty straightforward. Bathing not so much. I regularly wondered by what order of magnitude my water consumption fell by being limited to 3-minute showers in state parks.

As we crisscrossed the state, we learned about the constraints under which people before us lived – long before the invention of the RV. When pioneers arrived via the Oregon Trail, everything they owned was packed into a four-foot-by-nine-foot covered wagon. Before American and European settlers showed up in the Pacific Northwest, native tribes maintained a much smaller footprint. Even the large plank houses of the Makah were a lot smaller than today’s average American home.

I’m not about to compare our RV lifestyle to that of the original peoples or American pioneers. After all, our motorhome was equipped with a microwave oven. No matter how one does it, I encourage everybody to force themselves to live on less for an extended period. The world would be a different place if everybody had to deposit 25 cents after every minute in the shower.

2. Washington state’s water has changed the world.

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One look at Washington state on the map shows that water defines our existence – from the mouth to the Columbia to the upper reaches of Lake Roosevelt. This summer we learned how water dramatically changed the way of life for not only the inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest, but also the world. The Missoula Floods of the last Ice Age gave us the unique landscape we know today. David Thompson’s 12-day, 500-mile canoe trip down the Columbia River in 1811 helped create a global economy by completing a trade route across North America to Asia and Europe and back.

The hundreds of dams placed along our rivers over the past century transformed agriculture in the state and created a source of electricity that helped produce the first atomic bomb at Hanford. Those same dams wiped hundreds of small towns off the map and eliminated salmon runs that had been in place for millennia. Today, some of those dams – like the Elwha River Dam – are being removed, leading to even more dramatic changes to the ecosystems surrounding them. Some of the most significant events in world history can be linked to the water that flows through Washington state.

3. Washington is incredibly diverse.

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By many measures, Washington state has to be one of the most diverse states in the U.S. During our summer tour, we saw almost every type of land formation, body of water and climate imaginable. We started and ended our trip on a ferry navigating through the many islands dotting the Salish Sea. We drove through mountain passes in the north, south, east and west – usually with snow-capped peaks towering above us. We camped on lake shores, river banks and ocean beaches. We hiked through the arid hills of the Palouse, the dry desert of central Washington and the wet trails of the Olympic Rainforest. The chore of breaking camp was always exciting because we knew we were about to travel through an area that was radically different from the one in which we’d been staying.

Though statistically not the most ethnically diverse state in the union, Washington is made up of people from every background – from the Volga Germans of Ritzville to the Makah of Neah Bay. With our road trip falling during the major parties’ election year conventions, we passed by countless yard signs reminding us of the political extremes that exist in Washington state. If you want a sense of just how diverse this country is – on every level – I strongly encourage you to travel from one side of Washington to the other.

4. This land doesn’t belong to us.

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“ProjectWA” almost seemed like a misnomer by the end of the summer. Most of what we experienced during our trip reminded us that the vast majority of this region’s heritage dates back long before 1889, when Washington became the 42nd state. U.S. citizens are newcomers here, and we have a lot to learn from the people who occupied this land for thousands of years before David Thompson took his canoe down the Columbia River. For instance, before the creation of Lake Roosevelt that flooded the Kettle Falls, Native Americans figured out how to fish sustainably – allowing large numbers of salmon to spawn upriver before the first fish was plucked from the falls every year. The Makah practiced sustainable whaling for 1500 years, using every part of a whale for subsistence, before unsustainable whaling by other cultures placed whales on the endangered species list.

Yes, there is so much to learn and be proud of from the past 200 years. But no examination of Washington state is complete without an understanding of who inhabited this region before its “discovery” just a few hundred years ago. When you’re in Northeastern Washington, look up Joe Barreca, president of the The Heritage Network. And the next time you’re on the Olympic Peninsula, pay a visit to Kirk Wachendorf at the Makah Museum in Neah Bay. What you’ll learn from them is that this land doesn’t belong to us as much as we belong to the land.

5. We should invest in a heritage economy.

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Washington state’s secondary highways are the Main Streets of so many small towns, and it seems like our ProjectWA RV drove through most of them this summer. Unless one stops and looks around, it’s easy to put all of these communities into the same category: towns that peaked sometime in the 20th century and have been in decline since losing a major industry – usually one based on a natural resource such as timber, mining, farming or fishing.

When we did stop to investigate, Team ProjectWA quickly discovered a gold mine just below the surface of these small communities: their unique heritage. Whether it’s the baptismal font installed without a drain, the insider trading that established a county, or the haunted hospital on the hill, the stories of these towns run deep. With a little creativity, like what Colfax has done with its ghost hunts, a new heritage-based economy can emerge to supplement or replace the industries that allowed these communities to thrive in years past.

Creating a heritage economy isn’t about building more museums. It requires engaging people in the community’s unique history in a way that makes them want to stick around and explore more. Doing so is of course easier said than done. Community leaders must find a new way of doing things and challenge old assumptions. In Colfax, Val Gregory turned her town’s greatest weakness, abandoned buildings, into a strength: revenue-generating ghost tours.

Given its presence in our daily lives, technology should play a role in a heritage economy. What a group of Lopez Island middle schoolers and I did with Washington State Insider is just one use of technology to showcase history and drive exploration. Spokane Historical, created by EWU students, is a great mobile app and website that tells the stories of Spokane and Eastern Washington. Lake Chelan is placing interactive kiosks around the state to grab travelers’ attention. And, we all saw how Pokémon Go got people exploring all kinds of places this summer.  Regardless of how it’s done, the key to maximizing the return on a community’s historical assets is to make its heritage relevant to a new generation.

Our ProjectWA summer will not be soon forgotten. After traveling more than 2000 miles around this state, my family received much more than a history lesson. We became deeply connected to our home and inspired to make “old” things new again. The “Evergreen State” moniker has taken on an entirely new meaning.

Team ProjectWA

Relocating the Dvorak Barn

By Mallory Q., Lopez Island Middle School Student

The Dvorak Barn on 22274 Russell Rd in Kent, WA represents the area’s agricultural heritage. It is slated to be torn down to make way for a levee that will be going through the farm on which it sits. I hate this. Do you know why I hate this? I hate this because the Dvorak barn has an intriguing history.

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The Dvorak Barn on 22274 Russell Rd in Kent, WA

One of the earliest settlers of the Kent Valley, David A. Neely, was the recipient of a Homestead Land Grant for the area that became a 320-acre farm. Built in 1906, the Neely’s home preceded the barn, which was built in 1925. This is interesting because the house acted as the first post office for the first postmaster in Kent. Not only did they deliver the mail, they helped Kent become the lettuce capital of Washington State. Pretty cool, huh?

The farm flourished due to their lead in hops, corn, lettuce and onions – until eventually modern times caught up with them. The Neelys were doing well with their farm and post office, until the postmaster, David A. Neely, passed away. He passed his farm onto one of his eight children, James Neely.

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A hops farming family in early Kent

Interstate 5 eventually had to be built. As it expanded, it ran through Kent Valley, eliminating a lot of the farming land in the area. The barn closed because of the new highway. The result: an awesome little bit of history fell into disrepair.  Now with the levee needing to run through the farm, all buildings on that stretch of land will need to be torn down or moved.

Over time, all the farms in the Kent Valley have disappeared as warehouses have sprung up over the past 50 years. This started with the construction of the Boeing Space Center in the 60s. Within the past few months, Amazon.com opened a massive distribution center. Kent, once known for agriculture, has become the 4th-largest warehouse distribution center in the United States.

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Amazon’s new Kent distribution warehouse, less than a half-mile away from the Dvorak Barn

As a former 4H-er I am proud of the farm lands in Washington State. All Washingtonians are proud of our farm lands. It’s a big disappointment to all of the local farm owners to see this barn be condemned.

One way of saving the barn would be to move it. Sharon Bersaas, long-time Kent resident, has advocated for this option in order to preserve this legacy. “Our history has a wonderful story and using the Barn for an interpretive center we would be able to tell our story to future generations,” said Bersaas.

Bersaas and others have lobbied to get the barn moved to a preserved property, but the isolated area – along with the lack of funding – has made this venture a nonstarter.

One way to move the barn would be through crowd-sourced fundraisers such as gofundme, kickstarter or indiegogo. These could help raise funds to relocate the barn. The Greater Kent Historical Society’s Facebook page has a lot of information about the barn.  It could be used to make a Kent Historical Museum or an art gallery, or something along those lines. I think it would be neat if they were to make it into a restaurant. It would be awesome if they were to put up pictures of the barn, Kent and the community back in the 1920s, up on the walls around in the barn. Not only would you be eating, you would also be learning about some of the history of Kent, which, in my opinion, is pretty dang cool.

I hope that this story is meaningful to you and you want to help raise funds for the barn. Help support awareness by downloading the Washington State Insider App (available mid-June) and visiting the Dvorak Barn in Kent!

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The back of the Dvorak Barn

“Maybe not a gas station… but always a museum.”

Last week I paid a visit to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma to give Erich Ebel a preview of the Washington State Insider app, which is set to launch by mid-June. Erich is the Marketing and Communications Director for the Washington State Historical Society, who manages the History Museum. They have agreed to give discounted admission to Washington State Insider app users who have collected points by visiting historic places around the state.

Erich had just returned from a whirlwind trip around the state, passing through many of the same places that my family and I plan to visit during our ProjectWA summer tour. After visiting dozens of small towns across Western and Eastern Washington, Erich was struck by the one thing they all had in common. “Every town, no matter how small, has a museum,” he said. “Maybe not a gas station or a stoplight, but always a museum.”

WA State History Museum

Erich is absolutely right about this. My home, Lopez Island, with a population of only 2,400, has no stoplights or sidewalks. But it has a great museum. This phenomenon makes a statement about the priorities of smaller communities; and it is why, according to Erich, “people are gravitating toward heritage tourism.”

Museums of all sizes are critical to reminding us of our history. If our cultural heritage is to be preserved, though, we need more than museums to curb the advances of shorter-term commercial interests that can be antithetical to historic preservation. In Woodinville, the City Council wants to tear down the town’s original schoolhouse to make room for a parking garage. In Kent, the last barn standing – representing the area’s agricultural roots – will likely be torn down if the City Council’s current plan to widen the Green River is implemented. During my trip last week I visited both the Woodinville Schoolhouse and the Dvorak Barn in Kent. Losing them would be a massive loss for each community.

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Left: Rick Chatterton, Board President, Woodinville Heritage Society | Right: Nancy and Chuck Simpson, long-time Kent residents

The groups fighting for the protection of these endangered properties are not necessarily advocating for keeping these old buildings in their original state. They recognize that economies, industries and demographics change. Instead of creating relics that have no apparent use in today’s communities, they would like to see these buildings preserved and used as community gathering places of some kind. History and modern life don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

It is this integration of yesterday and today that is driving the development of the Washington State Insider app. 80% of Americans walk around with smartphones today. Let’s find a way to capitalize on that trend in a way that helps raise awareness of and preserves our cultural heritage.

Over the next week, students from Lopez Island Middle School will be posting stories about the Most Endangered Properties of Washington State that they want to see preserved. Those places, along with nearly 70 other locations around the state, will also be found in the Washington State Insider app, available for iPhones and Android devices.