November 5, 2009 in Washington Voices

Family farm in Fairfield displays collection of Americana

Valerie Putnam vrputnam@yahoo.com
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

A double keyboard No. 10 Smith Premier Typewriter was acquired by Gortsema from a former neighbor who died.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

What began as a need for space became a unique treasure trove of more than 100 years of American history and culture known as the Lost Dutchman Museum.

Located on the Gortsema family farm, the museum is in a modest building just east of State Route 27 in Fairfield.

“It’s fabulous,” Spokane Valley resident Doug Jones said about his visit to the museum last summer. “It was real interesting to see all those old things.”

Most visitors are those who, when just driving by, notice the wood sign displayed on the edge of the road and decide to stop. Some patrons have come from as far as New Zealand and New York. All told, the Lost Dutchman has had more than 500 people pass through its doors since first opening in June 2006.

“Stop in,” said Dorothy Gortsema, 84. “If someone is home, we’ll let you in.”

A visitor entering the museum is treated to a collection that fills the over 1,000-square-foot facility from ceiling to floor. Unusual historic items such as a collection of saltcellars, a Victor-Victrola phonograph and a copy of The Spokesman-Review from 1914 with the headline “Woodrow Wilson Inaugurated” neatly displayed in cases and on shelves.

Hanging from the ceiling is a 46-star American flag.

“The flag was given to our son, Marvin,” Andy Gortsema, 84, said. “The 46th star is when Oklahoma became a state.”

Among other unique attractions are a large bellows used in a blacksmith shop, a large wood scale Andy Gortsema believes came from a Wells Fargo Bank and a hot-coal foot warmer.

“We just have a little bit of everything,” Dorothy Gortsema said. “It’s hard to explain any of it because there is so much of it.”

The Lost Dutchman is the result of more than 60 years of collecting. Over time, the family acquired some of the best pieces with little or no financial obligation.

“I just took it as it came,” Andy said. “Really didn’t go around looking for it.”

There is an old typewriter with a double keyboard, acquired when a previous neighbor died. The white set types the capital letters, and the black is for lower case.

“Tried to have stuff for the ladies, the kids and for the men,” Andy said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far.”

Personal items from the Gortsema family also are on display, such as toys, antique jewelry and a stuffed owl Andy’s father shot in 1915.

The items have been well cared for, some restored to almost original condition.

Andy Gortsema’s forté is restoring old gas engines. Currently he has more than 40 in his collection.

“I’ve had over 100 at one time,” Andy said. “The odd ball ones are the ones I like.”

“In fact,” Andy said, pointing to a small engine, “This one here, the Plunkett Junior, it’s safe to say this is the only one you’ll ever see. I know of only six in the United States.”

The idea for the museum came from son Gary, 53, after returning to the area from Las Vegas due to a disability.

Trying to set up a woodworking shop, Gary discovered the two outbuildings on the farm filled with his father’s vast collection. He suggested building the museum to house all the historic pieces. The Gortsemas began construction in early spring 2006.

“It’s good to have everything under one roof,” Andy said. When questioned about the number of items on display, he laughs, “I don’t know, thousands I suppose. One time I thought about going around and counting them, but didn’t get that far.”

The unusual name came from a sign acquired from Andy Gortsema’s late brother John’s estate.

“We’re Dutch,” Gary Gortsema said, though no one is sure about where the sign originally came from. “And it seemed very appropriate to honor all the family with that sign.”

Andy Gortsema is proud of his collection. When asked what his favorite piece is, he said, “I kinda like it all.”

Items are changed periodically, and the Gortsema’s plan to continue to add to the collection.

“We’ll keep adding as long as we can find a place for it,” Andy laughed.

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