ROSEBURG, Ore. — From wooden hand-crank washing machines to trade beads, archives filled with vintage photos to rows and rows of carefully preserved gowns dating back to the late 1800’s, the Douglas County Museum’s archives are a treasure trove of local history. May is National Historic Preservation Month and the Douglas County Commissioners invite you to visit, volunteer and recognize the value in the historic places, artifacts and natural history museums in the Umpqua Valley. The Commissioners issued a proclamation formally dedicating May as a time to observe Historic Preservation Month in Douglas County.
“We want to encourage residents to take the journey of discovery and get excited about history in and around Douglas County. Take time to learn about the places, the stories and the people behind them. Peel back the layers of time and imagine the hardships, challenges and ingenuity of the people that lived here before us,” commented Commissioner Tom Kress. “Start your journey by visiting our local gems, the Douglas County Museum and the Umpqua River Lighthouse Museum. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.”
Did you know that at any given time, only about 5 percent of the more than 8,600 items in the Douglas County Museum’s vast collection are on display? That’s right, in order to keep the museum relevant to locals and tourists alike, as well as preserve the integrity of artifacts, the museum staff continually updates the exhibit halls and offers ‘limited edition’ viewings of certain collections. Many artifacts on display are so fragile that staff has to limit the amount of time they are exposed to air and light (the two main enemies of preservation) in order to hang onto the relics for generations to come. Issues like shattered silk and leather blooms are all too common for museum preservationists. Shattered silk is a term related to the degradation of silk material from exposure as it ages. And, leather blooms refer to the expression of salt and chemicals on the surface of treated leather as the material hardens and dries over time.
When residents take time to walk thru the smartly appointed artifact and ‘limited time’ exhibit rooms at the museum, they can begin to recognize the importance of preserving our local history. For History Channel fans, it’s like you are at a real life taping of ‘Mysteries at the Museum,’ as you discover artifacts and read the sorted tales associated with them. For long-time employees like Karen Bratton, Research Librarian/Artifact Collections Manager, this work is more than a job, it’s a passion. She has spent the last 21 years, dawning white gloves and painstakingly cataloging and preserving ledgers, toys, manuscripts, diaries, baby buggies and oral history tapes all that recount a time and place from local days gone by.
All the items in the collection have been graciously donated over the years. Each item the museum chooses to add to their collection must go through a careful selection process, with the first priority being recognized as having providence to Douglas County. They have got typewriters and wood planers a plenty, but one item that is high on the request list are vintage children’s toys. Unfortunately, these rare finds are often in poor condition, because kids played with and enjoyed them. But, if you have a vintage toy, that is in pretty good condition, that you would like to donate, they welcome the chance to evaluate it.
In regards to rare finds, the Douglas County Museum is filled with a number of prize possessions that would (if they were for sale, which they are not), start a rather large bidding war at any Sotheby’s antiquities auction. One such object measures about 3/4 of an inch in diameter, weighs less than an ounce and has a pretty sordid history in Oregon. It is a real genuine gold “Beaver Coin.” Beaver Coins, also known as Beaver Money, were gold coins minted for a short time in Oregon in 1849. Their name comes from the prominent beaver depicted on the back of the coins. Regions like the Oregon Territory lacked a stable and reliable currency system for the payment of goods in 1849. A local mint decided to design and produce a $5 and $10 beaver coin to act as the local currency. But, later that year Territory Governor Joseph Lane ruled the operation unconstitutional and with the opening of the United States Mint branch in San Francisco, Calif., which made a large supply of gold and silver U.S. currency available to the citizens of the West Coast, the Beaver Coins were quickly acquired and destroyed. Today these coins are quite rare and valuable.
Are you interested in preserving history? Maybe you have an attic full of treasures. Or you have a family story that has been passed down from generation to generation. Here are a few tips from the museum staff to think about when storing those family photos, stories and artifacts:
1) Get your treasures into an acid-free environment.
2) Take your photos out of those old magnetic or peel and stick albums. The materials they are made of, typically plastic, glue, and cardboard, will damage photos over time. If you do decide to use a commercially available photo album, look for one labeled "acid-free."
3) Keep the items stored in air tight containers, away from insects and dust.
4) Get them out of the light. Exposure to light, especially modern fluorescent bulbs will quickly fade colors.
5) If you want to display those family photos, make sure to use UV protective glass.
6) Got a story to tell from way back when? Make sure to write it down, or better yet, record your parents or grandparents telling the story.
For more information about our Umpqua Valley Museums log onto: http://umpquavalleymuseums.org/.