October 29, 2009 in Washington Voices

Cheney Museum settling in

Community-built exhibits on remarkable winters, Mount St. Helens planned for new location
By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

Joan Mamanakis, director of the Cheney Museum, is busy trying to get the museum moved into its new location at 420 First St. The museum lost its home last January when the roof of the Wren Pierson Building collapsed.
(Full-size photo)

How to help

The Cheney Historical Museum is always looking for donations and volunteers. If you are interested, call the museum at (509) 235-2202.

It’s been almost a year of uncertainty, but the Cheney Historical Museum has moved into its new location at 420 First St.

The museum lost its home last January after heavy snowfalls caused the roof of the Wren Pierson Building to collapse. Not only did museum workers have to scramble to find places to store the exhibits but a new location had to be found.

The organization is now leasing space along First Street in downtown Cheney. Joan Mamanakis, the museum’s director, said volunteers from the city and from sororities and fraternities at Eastern Washington University helped move most of the larger exhibit pieces on Oct. 3.

“They were great,” Mamanakis said of the volunteers. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Mamanakis said that to generate interest in the museum, she and other volunteers have decided to create two new community-built exhibits. One commemorates remarkable winters, such as the 1996 ice storm, the blizzard of January 1950 and even the past two record-breaking winter snowfalls. The other, just in time for the 30th anniversary next May, will feature residents’ memories of Mount St. Helens’ eruption in 1980. The museum will accept pictures and oral histories of residents’ experiences and create exhibits.

“One hundred years from now, people will be able to learn about this time period,” Mamanakis said.

To make it easier for residents to contribute to these exhibits, the museum will be open Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. throughout the winter.

Among the items moved to the new location is a piano shipped from New York in February 1882. The piano traveled by ship around Cape Horn, Chile, and up to Portland. From there, it traveled by boat up the Columbia River and then by freight wagon to Tyler, Wash. Since the demise of the Wren Pierson Building, the piano has been stored in City Hall.

Another piece of interest is a large watercolor that includes the names of every soldier from the area who served in World War I. The painting was originally displayed at what was then the Cheney Normal School, later was moved to the American Legion and then made its way to the museum.

There are old typewriters, sets of china, a butter churn and a World War II-era machine gun built in Berlin that was shipped to the area for training purposes.

Mamanakis said that the new location holds a lot of Cheney history. The last time it was occupied, it was a computer repair shop. It’s also been a jeweler, a newsstand and a grocery store. It started out in the 1890s as a general mercantile store, and Mamanakis said she has found many items from that period, such as a contraption to reach items on a high shelf and an old cash drawer.

Mamanakis said she expects the museum to be at this new location for about three to five years until a permanent solution is found. The museum received a grant of $10,200 from the hotel-motel tax fund to help defray some of the costs of its new lease, but since the museum was living rent-free in its old location, more donations will be needed.

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