Interview project covers 1930s to 1970s
What do you remember about life in the valley before the North Cascades Highway? How about the days before electricity and indoor plumbing? What did you do for fun? What memories of the valley do you cherish? Are there things you’d rather forget?
The Shafer Museum is conducting informal interviews to collect stories from the 1930s through the 1970s. There’s no set topic — the interviews can cover major events like the 1948 flood, or simply memories of day-to-day activities.
The museum is looking for accounts of experiences, not necessarily detailed family histories. “We’re not worried about the right date or year — it’s just stories about memories of the flood, school, etc.,” said Linda Wilson, a Shafer volunteer and one of the coordinators of the interview project.
“It’s not the facts, it’s the story. It’s somebody’s remembrance of the facts,” said Sharon Sumpter, Wilson’s co-coordinator.
The museum, which opened in 1949, has a considerable collection of history, photos and documents about homesteaders and the valley’s history from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But the museum has less information about life in the Methow starting in the 1930s, and this project will help fill in the gaps.
The interviews they’ve conducted so far have unearthed illuminating details of life here. Some people talked about how special it was to grow up in the valley, and described sledding through apple orchards at night, Wilson said.
Many people talk about what was once considered common knowledge, but those things could be lost as technology changes, Wilson said. For instance, homesteaders typically looked for a spot along a creek, both because it was less likely to flood and because they could build a small shed over the creek to use as an ice house. Insulated with sawdust, the ice would last into the summer.
Others have described what it was like to have a party line for their phone service and to route all calls through a switchboard operator.
Connecting the dots
Although the museum is in Winthrop, it’s dedicated to the history of the entire Methow Valley. “Most people think the museum is just buildings. But we’re looking for ways to make valley history more accessible,” Sumpter said.
As a community museum run primarily by volunteers, they rely on community members to fill the story, she said. “These conversations help the museum connect the dots,” Wilson said.
Have stories to share?
Call the Shafer Museum at (509) 380-9911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The museum is also interested in photos and historical records, which they will scan and return to the owner.
The interviews are recorded and will be transcribed. They’ll be available to researchers who come into the museum to listen to or read an interview, but they won’t be posted online for the general public. The museum may use audio excerpts or snippets of the transcripts to add detail to their exhibits. Interviewers will take written notes instead if an individual isn’t comfortable being recorded.
The museum started interviewing people about two years ago, but the project was interrupted by COVID. The interviews can take many forms. Some people meet with the interviewer one on one, and some like to get together with a group of friends and just trade stories at the kitchen table, around a campfire, or in the back yard. There’s no standard format, which enhances the variety and depth of information.
The interviewers have a timeline from 1887 to 1999 to help jog memories, but there is no set topic. They’re interested in hearing about the experiences of everyone in the valley, about work, daily life and leisure activities. Many people bring photos and scrapbooks that add to their stories.
The interviews typically last about an hour. Some people have so much to share that they meet for a second session.
Anyone can tell stories — you don’t have to have lived through those years personally, but can share stories you’ve heard from family, friends and neighbors.