Walking Tour Exhibit of Vashon Town

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Thirty-four interpretive photo panels depicting the history of Vashon buildings are being installed to create “Main Street Vashon” A Walk Through History, presented by the Vashon Heritage Museum and curated by Brian Brenno, opening on First Friday in August.  One panel will be displayed in each of the businesses in the original block of what started as the town of Vashon, traveling from Bank Road to the corner of SW 178th St.

The exhibit presented to Vashon represents hundreds of volunteer research hours.

“It’s a tribute to the building owners and businesses that have contributed to build our town’s history.” said Brian Brenno, past Vashon Heritage Museum President and Exhibit Curator.

“This is a gift to Vashon,” said Sue Hardy, Vice President of Vashon Heritage Museum, Exhibit Co- Curator, and Island Artist “a reminder that we are walking through our history, giving all of us the opportunity to see the changes that took place to create our town.”

“Knowing the history of the buildings causes us to look at them with fresh eyes, imagining the way the community functioned in a different era.” added Laurie Tucker, Head of Collections Vashon Heritage Museum.

More photo panels will be added to other blocks as time and resources allow. The photo boards depict buildings from 1890 to the 1970s.  Photos researched and selected were of the earliest original building, or buildings that had replaced the original building.  The town of Vashon had three major fires over the years that destroyed buildings and businesses, one included the bombing of a King County courthouse.  Newer buildings had been constructed to withstand fires and were able to stop the spread and further loss of town history.  The architecture was based more on function than on a plan for the overall town aesthetic. The tour guides the participants by the sites of the first businesses, those that flourished and survive today and those that did not.  Learn about the buildings that were important in stopping the spread of the fire of 1933, the cabin that housed the Vashon Offices of King County Ferry District #1 established by the State Legislature in 1949, the first general store built in 1890, and George McCormick’s Hardware Store, which could be considered the longest running family owned island business.  Learn which building had updated refrigeration for meats and the first self-serve counter for dry goods.  The location of the first hotel, the meat market, the telephone company and the auto repair shop? When was the movie theatre built?

This was a collaborated between Brenno and the Heritage Museum’s Mini Exhibit Committee members, Sue Hardy, Laurie Tucker, Alicia Widmer, Bruce Haulman and Elsa Croonquist.

Brenno, an Island glass artist has had a long obsession with the Town of Vashon as he states in his curators’ statement, “As a fourth generation Islander I have always been fascinated with the history of the Island. Both my grandfather and father were businessmen in the town of Vashon and I grew up hearing stories about the town. In 2011, I co-curated a show at the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum titled “Main Street Vashon”.  I was frustrated by the lack of written information about the town. Starting around 2013, I began a systematic search through old Island newspapers, memoirs, research papers and books to find all the information I could about the town. Vashon is unique among Puget Sound islands and islands in general, most islands have a seaside town or port as the main town, Vashon-Maury has a landlocked main town.  Bainbridge Island, for example, has the town of Winslow, adjacent to the ferry landing in Eagle Harbor.”

“This is one of many exhibits the museum presents to the community,” said Alicia Widmer, Heritage Board member.  The Museum’s Mini Exhibit Committee provides our schools and the museum with pop up exhibits of current and local interest, as well as topically relevant subjects.  This is the largest Mini installation that we have taken on to-date”, continued Widmer.

“Take a stroll through town to glimpse the past and the hard work and dedication that went into developing our island’s livelihood and our community center. Town tours are interesting and fun, and Vashon Town has evolved into a fun space to stroll, with our First Friday Gallery openings, our regionally recognized restaurants and our treasure trove of history” said Elsa Croonquist Vashon Heritage Museum Executive Director, “The Museum wanted to take exhibits out of the museum’s building and bring the exhibit to the community.” Croonquist added.

This started as an idea for a gift for the community back in early Fall of 2019.   Plans were made to have the exhibit up in April 2020.  Delays set in due to COVID, the closing of town businesses and the state protocol to not promote crowds.  With Vashon businesses opening back up, the hope is that the community can enjoy history and stories while wearing masks and practicing safe social distancing. The museum quality panels will be displayed in business windows. Business owners and the Chamber of Commerce when first approached in February were enthusiastic about the idea.

“We are thrilled that businesses wanted to participate, ‘’ said Croonquist, “Our goal is to support the town of Vashon and to help promote safe reopening of businesses.  Allow our community to take a look at our history out in the open air.  Our hope is to continue to have the exhibit on permanent display.  Brochures for the walking tour will be available at the museum, when it reopens to the public, and at the businesses,” she added.

The Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association’s mission is to collect, preserve, and exhibit and interpret the history of Vashon and Maury Islands; its primary goal is to establish and operate a community museum and archive.