A historic vision
By Valerie Putnam
Spokane Valley Heritage Museum
"We're a small museum, but have a big vision."
This is the mantra of Spokane Valley Heritage Museum Director Jayne Singleton, who understands the potential of the museum exceeds its limitations.
"There is nothing we don't undertake," Singleton said. "Size doesn't limit us."
Officially opening its doors in August 2005, Singleton got the idea to start a museum while planning the Valley Chamber of Commerce 80th anniversary in 1999.
"I thought showcasing the Valley's history would be a good focus for the event," said Singleton, who worked for the Chamber at the time.
She soon discovered, though, there wasn't any repository or much history available.
"I just couldn't believe there wasn't a museum here in the Valley," said Singleton, who was raised with a strong sense of her family's history. "There wasn't one place to go. I thought that wasn't right."
In 2000, she took a leap of faith. Singleton quit her job at the Chamber and worked full time to set up the legal structure for a nonprofit historical organization with the mission of collecting, preserving and exhibiting the history of the Spokane Valley.
Her understanding of the Valley's history came by researching, reading, visiting significant sites and talking to people.
"I'm a self-appointed Valley historian," laughed Singleton, who grew up in Redondo Beach, Calif. "I always say the Lord has a purpose for everyone, and he gave me an awesome one."
With the help of Valley residents Chuck King and Lois Cunningham, the organization came together and began gathering historical artifacts.
"Most everything you see in here has been donated," Singleton said as she walked through the exhibits. "The community and businesses have really embraced the museum."
Singleton's choice of the Opportunity Township Hall for the museum's location was easy.
"I identified this building as the most appropriate place to start because it was such a part of the Valley's history," Singleton said. "It was the heart of the community."
Built in 1912, the 100-year-old Spanish Colonial-style building has been a movie theatre and roller skating rink. It also has hosted wrestling matches and church meetings.
"Just about all the historic buildings in the Valley are gone," Singleton said. "This one's not going anywhere. We've become really good stewards of preserving this building."
After acquiring the building in May 2004, cracks in the exterior walls were filled, plaster and broken windows repaired and the entire surface painted. Inside, walls to provide exhibit areas were constructed and painted.
Renovation to the outside property began more than a year ago with the installation of fencing to protect the exhibits and landscaping donated by the Boy Scouts. Plans to build a smaller building on the south side of its property are under way for next spring.
Singleton oversees the exhibit design and uses the entire 4,000 square feet of the historic building.
"We want to tell a quality story in an engaging way," Singleton said.
Floor-to-ceiling exhibits are sensory-driven. The current exhibit on the Titanic uses voice recordings as a means to augment the visual display. Other displays use period music or scents. Interactive displays allow guests to place a phone call on a rotary phone, learn to ‘prime the pump' using an old water pump outside in the museum's courtyard or watch toast brown in an old fashioned toaster.
The museum also provides visitors a look at the world outside of Valley history.
"We look at nationally and globally, what is our collective history and what do we want to exhibit to share, to inform, influence and inspire, understanding the role history and historical events have played in our lives," Singleton said.
In 2006, it was one of six museums in Washington state to display the traveling Smithsonian exhibit, "Between Fences," an exhibit about the role of fences in American culture.
An exhibit showcasing the Spokane River is tentatively scheduled to open in March. It will focus on the river's role in the culture and development of our region, as well as its history as transportation and as a source of irrigation.
"It's a fabulous resource," Singleton said. "The river is like blood in a sense of this living Valley."
Singleton said the entire center of the museum will change next year with the new display.
An outside irrigation exhibit is also scheduled to open next year as part of developing the approximately 11,000 square feet on the south side of the property.
Singleton also plans to install historic markers on specific properties throughout the valley.
"There's always something happening here," Singleton said. "Every day I get up excited about what's going to happen today."
Earlier this year, Singleton launched a museum archives web site, www.spokanevalleyarchives.org. The site gives access to more than 150 years of history, including past Valley Herald newspapers from 1920 to 1983.
According to Singleton, the museum is growing rapidly, and she plans to grow with it for years to come.
"I've chosen passion over paycheck. It's a very full life," Singleton said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Spokane Valley Heritage Museum
Boundaries of museum's focus
East to Stateline, west to Havana, north to Peone Prairie and south to Rockford
Through private donations, museum memberships, admission proceeds, grants and fundraising.
Director Jayne Singleton and 24 volunteers
Hours of operation
Wednesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Group Tours available upon request.
$6 adults, $5 seniors, $4 ages 7 to 17 (under 7 free)
In 2011, an estimated 4,000 guests visited the museum, some from as far away as India, Ireland and South America.
Largest display artifact
1925 threshing machine, approximately 20 feet long by 8 feet high