BEND, Ore. – Before it became a Western-themed tourist destination, Sisters was considered a rugged outpost.
It was a remote crossroads for wagon travel in the 1800s, and grew into a supply station for sheepherders on their way from Shaniko to grazing pastures in the Cascades.
Through the 1900s, Sisters transformed into a busy mill town. But even late into the 1950s, many homes did not have running water.
The ever-changing history of Sisters is mostly overlooked. Nowhere in the city of 2,000 people is there a museum to preserve and showcase its history. Instead, Sisters today is known more for its art galleries, restaurants and coffee shops.
“Everybody is always kind of shocked,” Sisters resident Becky Lukens said. “It’s an oversight the city doesn’t have a museum.”
Lukens, a former high school history teacher who moved to Sisters in 2016, and four other local women have spent the past year creating the Three Sisters Historical Society. The five members meet every Friday in the old Sisters Library behind the Sisters Chamber of Commerce building.
The old library is being used for storage and would be an ideal place for future events, according to the group. Finding a permanent museum location is a long-term plan that would take more funding and the right location in town.
For now, the women continue to focus on fundraising and public events to get people interested in Sisters history.
Recently, they hosted their first two public events in Sisters with each drawing more than 100 people. Their next event is a talk by historian Rick Steber titled, “Wandering the Native American Trail,” at 7:30 p.m. April 17 in the Five Pines Conference Center.
“Our motto is we are bringing history alive and we are bringing it to you,” said Sue Stafford, president of the Three Sisters Historical Society.
Stafford and other members visited museums in the region and along the Oregon Trail last summer to help decide what kind of organization and future museum they want to have.
“The conclusion that we came to is we don’t want to be a stuffy little building that has things behind glass cases,” Stafford said.
The women who formed the Three Sisters Historical Society are longtime Sisters resident Kathy Cooper; Karen Swank, who is working to become a certified genealogist; Zeta Seiple, the group’s treasurer; Lukens and Stafford.
“It’s been really a wonderful experience,” Stafford said. “Each one of us have our own strengths.”
The Deschutes Historical Museum is supporting the effort in Sisters. The museum in Bend loaned the new group a quilt made for a Sisters woman’s 50th birthday in 1913. The quilt, along with another one made in 1935, will be on display in July at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show.
“They said this quilt is a Sisters history piece and you should have it,” Stafford said. “They didn’t have it on display.”
In June, the Three Sisters Historical Society will have a horse-drawn wagon in the Sisters Rodeo Parade. The wagon will carry 20 descendants of early Sisters settlers or residents whose families have lived in Sisters prior to 1950.
The new organization has other tentative plans to partner with the Sisters Arts Association and also host more events in May during Historic Preservation Month.
“Our absolute main goal is we want to hopefully educate the people who live in Sisters and the surrounding area of what a rich history we have,” Stafford said.
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