More repairs, upgrades coming
Back in the homesteader era, pretty much every pioneer family had the knowledge, skill and tools to build a log cabin. And build they did: homes, schoolhouses, mercantiles, barns, granges, town halls and other structures.
Now, one or two centuries later, those historic buildings that haven’t collapsed and gone back to the earth need significant restoration if they are to be preserved for future generations to admire, wonder about and learn from.
When Shafer Museum board members began creating the museum in Winthrop from structures on site and transported from around the area, they had the foresight to set the buildings on foundations, which has prolonged their lives. A re-chinking project a decade ago further preserved the log structures.
And now a third significant restoration effort is extending the buildings’ lifespans, thanks to a gift from the Philadelphia Foundation in honor of museum champion, volunteer extraordinaire, and former board member, the late Carl Miller.
Shafer Museum Executive Director Suzanne Perin said, “The board felt confident that Carl would have wanted to see this project happen. He was invested in the buildings’ longevity.”
Although Miller could not see the flurry of activity around the museum grounds last week, there is no doubt that he would have been one of the volunteers hauling wheelbarrows of gravel, pulling soil from around foundations, and cleaning and oiling the buildings’ logs. “Carl’s presence is here,” Perin said.
Leading the restoration effort was historic conservation specialist Chris Gustafson from Vintage Window Restoration in Astoria, Oregon. Gustafson fell into preserving historic buildings somewhat by accident.
“In 2008 in the heart of the recession I had just had a kid and I didn’t have a job, so I went through work force training,” he said. “I got involved in a historic preservation program and was in the first class of graduates from that program. After doing contract work for eight years, I started teaching in the same program. That evolved into me going around to different sites and planning and managing volunteer crews, like the one we have this week at the Shafer Museum. These field schools are really fun for me, as well as for the volunteers who learn a lot about preserving old buildings.”
Like many Methow Valley nonprofit organizations, the Shafer Museum has a robust volunteer crew. “We’re so lucky to have this group of volunteers,” Perin said. “We have everyone from Roxie [Miller, a museum advocate on par with her late husband Carl] to longtime museum volunteers to a U.S. Forest Service intern to a woman from the west side who stopped by on her vacation and decided to stay and help. And then she came back to volunteer for another few days at the end of her vacation!”
The volunteer crew had four priority buildings: “The Castle” (Guy Waring’s home and the centerpiece of the museum); the press building, with its historic printing presses and typesetter trays; the homesteader cabin (the original tiny home); and the schoolhouse, built by the Ortell family in 1894 on their Bear Creek homestead.
Projects included pulling soil away from the foundations and replacing with drainage gravel donated by Cascade Concrete; dry brushing, washing, and treating with a preservative every log on the exterior of the buildings; and finally, coating each log with a natural oil.
The use of natural oils is important, Perin said. “This is what the homesteaders would have used had they been treating their logs — pine resin, linseed oil and real turpentine.” Later generations discovered petroleum products, which contribute to wood decay, she added.
Gustafson talked about treating the tamarack shingles on the homesteader cabin with pine tar, sourced from Norway. “Tamarack was renowned for its durability, so it’s an excellent material for shingles. It felt great to get the roof of that cabin treated and preserved,” he said.
“I love pine tar,” Gustafson added, brushing a few strokes on a sheet of plywood to show a museum visitor its color.
‘Quite a gem’
Gustafson called the Shafer Museum “a gem.” His path to both the museum and the Methow Valley was serendipitous. “I was at a conference in Port Townsend,” he said. “There was a representative from Methow Made there, and they handed out these stickers. So I’ve had this Methow Made sticker for a few years and I always wanted to come here. And then I got asked to come here and contribute to restoring the Shafer Museum. You’ve got quite a gem here. People are just dazzled by this place.”
Gustafson, his son and his parents stayed at the Pine Near RV Park during the restoration period. His 13-year-old homeschooled son alternately helped with the restoration projects and explored the area, while his parents threw themselves into the restoration efforts, wielding shovels and wheelbarrows and fielding questions.
Gustafson, who also restores historic fire lookouts, will return next summer to lead the next phase of restoration: cleaning and treating the interior logs of the buildings. Perin also has plans to repair the chimney masonry, repair the roofs on The Castle and the schoolhouse buildings, and upgrade the electric system so that some buildings can remain open in the colder months, to extend the museum’s season. Gustafson will also work with volunteers to restore the buildings’ windows, pane by painstaking pane.
The Shafer Museum was recently ranked seventh of 30 proposals for a Capital Projects Heritage grant, which, if passed, would be included in the state budget and would cover future restoration efforts. Those who would like to see these efforts funded should contact their state elected officials to show support.
As part of the “Rusty Metal Gang” — the Shafer Museum volunteers in charge of infrastructure management — Carl Miller, along with co-conspirator John Owen and others, “would have been proud of the work done this week,” said Roxie Miller, who wielded a shovel all week in the restoration effort. “[Carl] had the talent to bring fun and joy of a job well-done to the folks that worked beside him.”