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Historic Objects Don't Rehouse Themselves

February 5, 2020

Written by: Cam Amabile, Oregon Department of Forestry

Goodbye constant threat from water damage, hello room full of gleaming white boxes!

Thanks to Oregon Parks & Recreation & Oregon Heritage Commission, a 2019 Museum Grant provided the Tillamook Forest Center with much needed protection for a valuable collection of archives and objects. While piles of unfolded corrugated plastic boxes aren’t exactly glitzy or glamorous, these simple objects provide permanence for public resources on the some of the biggest fires in Oregon’s history, the first large-scale experimental forest replanting effort in the nation, and a rich history of Oregon’s relationship with the Tillamook State Forest. 

Those boxes didn’t fold themselves. Our historic objects, they didn’t mold themselves into foam.  All the documentation, it didn’t write itself. While the center’s Interpretation & Education team managed the archive project, two steadfast archive warriors made it all happen: volunteers, Kristy Lund & John Casteel.

Volunteer Kristy Lund rehouses objects

Many organizations fear putting valuable collections in the hands of their volunteers. Surely, it takes a lot of trust, knowledge, and training but it doesn’t need to be scary. Our volunteers came to us with two things that made them successful, dedication & the ability to pay attention to detail.  It didn’t hurt that Kristy had a little bit of experience too. Regardless of Kristy’s experience, both she and John possessed a moldable suite of soft skills making them ideal candidates to engage in this project. Their interest in working with archives and desire to preserve the objects we have, has now had a lasting impact on the center for the good of the public.

Goodbye constant threat from water damage, hello room full of gleaming white boxes!

Our staff took time to set them up upon arrival each day with measurable objectives along with training for any new tasks. We followed manuals readily available online focused on preparing volunteers for archival work and perfected them to meet the center’s needs. By providing these passionate and dedicated volunteers with support and trusting them, we were able to steamroll through tasks with precision, accuracy, and the ever-elusive efficiency.

Volunteers can sometimes be the best play-doh to mold into powerhouses for accomplishing specialized tasks. All it takes is willing staff to guide them, a little time for training at the outset, and supporting them when they come upon a crossroads. Without volunteers, the Tillamook Forest Center/Oregon Department of Forestry would have been unable to preserve these materials. Our volunteers are invaluable members of our team and invaluable assets to all Oregonians for preserving our collective history.

Calling for Sites that Tell Women's History

January 14, 2020

By Jason Allen, Oregon State Historic Preservation Office

One hundred years ago today, Oregon became the 25th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, affirming the right of women to fully participate in our democracy. Because it would require another eight months to reach the necessary 36 states to adopt it formally into the United States Constitution, 2020 is a year full of significant dates marking the centenary.

Lord Schryver Conservancy, Salem

In this important anniversary year, one way we can draw attention to the historically unrecognized contributions of women in Oregon is to connect those accomplishments with the places where they happened and record those sites in the Oregon Statewide Inventory, the State’s collection of information on historically significant places.

As the Survey and Inventory Program Coordinator at Oregon Heritage, I’ve become familiar with quite a lot of the significant places across Oregon. For example, the Lord & Schryver Conservancy was the Northwest’s first woman owned and operated landscape architecture firm, and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

More importantly, I’ve learned of some properties that I hadn’t known anything about, such as the Patton Home for the Aged, a stately Georgian/Colonial Revival-style building in Portland that may have been the first retirement home in Oregon. Prior to the New Deal programs that assisted older people into their later years, support for the elderly was a charity cause.

Patton Home, Portland. Photo:Wikipedia

Among those charitable organizations was the Ladies’ Union Relief Society, established in 1887 and dedicated to assisting any who needed it. In 1889 land was donated for the purpose of establishing a home of the aged, which the Society accepted, and the first phase of construction of the Patton Home was built. Members of the Ladies’ Union Relief Society held all offices in the new organization, led by Mary A. Knox, who served as President of the Patton Home for many years. The building was expanded many times over the following decades, initially serving as a retirement home for vulnerable, elderly women, but ultimately opening to both men and women. The building is now low-income housing, but stands as a testament to the efforts of Mary Knox and the other women of the Society to provide for women in their later years.

Maybe most importantly, I’ve also learned about some places that I thought I knew, but was introduced to connections that were wholly new to me. One such property is Lincoln Hall on the Portland State University campus in downtown Portland. I knew that this building had started its life in 1911 as Lincoln High School, later becoming the first building occupied by the University on its opening on the South Park Blocks in 1953. What I learned, however, was that the building was also central to the early development of Portland’s now thriving independent film scene.

In the early 1960s, a student group called the Portland State Film Committee began screening films in the basement of Lincoln Hall. The group’s leader was Brooke Jacobson, then an undergraduate student. Brooke went on to a lifetime of achievements in the advancement of independent, local filmmaking, including the founding of the Northwest Media Project, co-founding the Northwest Film Center, and the securing of critical grants early in the history of both, serving on a committee of the National Endowment for the Arts that sought to identify resources for independent filmmakers, earned a PhD from USC, and returned to PSU to teach film. Through her efforts, future artists like Bill Plympton, Matt Groening, Gus Van Sant, and others were exposed to independent film through their participation in screenings held in Lincoln Hall. Ms. Jacobson is recognized as one of the leading early drivers behind independent film in Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest, and it all began in the basement, Room 75, and the auditorium at Lincoln Hall.

My work here at Oregon Heritage gives me the great opportunity to see many places in Oregon, to learn about their role in history, and to share them with others. On this 100th anniversary of Oregon’s acknowledgment of the right of women to vote, let us all take a moment to acknowledge the great achievements of Oregon’s women, sung and unsung, and of those everywhere whose contributions stand far above the recognition they’ve received.

Do you know of other important Oregon places associated with women’s history? These may be residences, business places, social gathering spaces, sites for suffrage and women’s rights efforts, burial sites, campuses, etc… Please provide all information and documentation you can to inform our Historic Sites Database.

Board Development Without a Strategic Planning Retreat

December 30, 2019

By Darin Rutledge, Executive Director, Klamath Falls Downtown Association

Inspired by this past spring’s Oregon Heritage Summit, Klamath Falls Downtown Association wanted to find a way to take our organization’s board engagement to the next level. One of the many takeaways from the summit – which perfectly delivered on its theme of “The Culture of Board Engagement” – was the concept of having more regular discussions about high level organizational topics. Certainly, those discussions could take place in a multi-day, offsite strategic planning retreat, but we wanted to get to work now. We identified a set of individual activities that could be completed in a relatively short amount of time, and decided to use our board meetings! I know what you’re thinking … board meetings can already be long and tedious. That is true, and it was true for us as well. But we solved that too!

Here’s how we adapted our regular board meeting agenda to accommodate:

  • We eliminated ex-officio directors’ round robin reports from the agenda. Ex-officios now request agenda time if they have topical and timely updates to deliver;
  • We removed committee reports from the agenda. Our committee chairs are now responsible for written monthly reports to be included in the agenda packet; and
  • We added 15 minutes at the end of each meeting for “board development time”

For each board meeting, we pick a board development topic designed to achieve two primary purposes: First, to provide learning opportunities for those who could benefit from discussing common nonprofit management concepts; and second, to provide an open and candid opportunity to discuss our organization’s performance in certain areas.

The changes to the meeting structure and the addition of board development to our agenda has created positive results in our organization:

  • Board meetings on average are approximately 30 minutes SHORTER than before;
  • Our board has rapidly checked off a couple areas where we perform at an adequate level, and identified some areas where we have some work to do; and
  • We have provided a monthly opportunity for our board to discuss high-level organizational topics above and beyond the transactional decision making that previously dominated the agenda.

One of our goals is to make sure our board is on the same page in terms of how the organization operates. Building a culture of board engagement is not something that can happen overnight or even in the few short months since we’ve deployed these tools, but we’re already benefiting from the effort through a more unified board voice and through open discussion of high-level topics that typically don’t get attention until the strategic planning process rolls around.

Following are some keys to success if you want to give it a shot:

  • Make this board development time a priority. It shouldn’t be the first thing that is cut if the agenda runs long.
  • Don’t approach it as “training.” Many nonprofits have a disparity between the experience of their staff and volunteer board members. The value in this process is in making sure everyone has an equal voice.
  • Follow up. If you identify the need for an immediate change, add it to a future board agenda.
  • Coordinating topics and facilitating the discussion require some administrative time, but it is well worth it. A good place to start if you’d like to test the waters without having to invest too much is “Board Management: 10 minute exercises to get your board working!” from the Center for Nonprofit Stewardship.

Regardless of the size, maturity and structure of your nonprofit, this is a great way to keep these important topics front and center and to create some more value from your board meetings!

History: Not as Old as You Think

December 16, 2019

By Jeremy Ebersole, University of Oregon Graduate Student in Historic Preservation

Preservationists are often beleaguered by an impression that we are stuck in the past, a fact not helped by common understandings of what is and is not historic.  We generally agree that George Washington’s Mount Vernon is historic.  So too with Portland’s 1869 Pioneer Courthouse.  But what about a motel from the 1930s? Or a movie theater with bright 20th century neon? 

The National Park Service, which manages the National Register of Historic Places, the country’s official list of historic places around which most other preservation programs are built, sets the cutoff at 50 years.  The relevance of this limit is hotly debated, however, and the National Register itself allows newer properties to be listed if they have “exceptional importance” (the Portland Building, for example, was listed when it was only 29 years old). 

As a recent Vermonter, my decision to come to Oregon for historic preservation graduate studies bewilders many, concerned that I’d leave the land of “real history” for a place where everything is relatively new.  Despite not having anything from the Revolutionary War, Oregon has a wealth of buildings both historic and important, and I’m proud to be studying here.

As I interned with Oregon Heritage this past summer, there have been numerous opportunities to support these “nontraditional” resources.  The Oregon Main Streets Network makes a huge difference in our communities, including The Dalles, where the Main Street organization is working closely with the new National Neon Sign Museum to promote the museum and display some of its collection around town.  In St. Helens, the Columbia Theatre was the recipient of an Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant, which will help replace, in kind, the marquee and neon on this c.1920s shrine to entertainment. 

I’ve also been privileged to complete a survey of commercial buildings along Hwy 101 in Lincoln City.  A benefit provided by Oregon Heritage to the new Main Street community, this survey uncovered a number of architectural gems in a place best known for its coastline.  While many properties are from the mid-century or have been altered over the years and may not appear “historic,” meaningful history exists nonetheless.  The survey and report will benefit the city by calling out the resources that exist within it and recommending future actions to take advantage of those resources, many of which are closely related to auto age tourism, particularly old motor courts.  It will also draw attention to the fact that history doesn’t need to be all federal buildings and important people’s homes.  It can be restaurants and theaters and candy stores as well.

Jeremy Ebersole worked as State Historic Preservation Office summer staff during 2019. He is a graduate student at University of Oregon studying historic preservation.

Reflections on Welcoming More Visitors with the Museums for All Program

December 3, 2019

By Ruth Hyde, Membership and Visitor Services Manager, Museum of Natural and Cultural History

In the summer of 2015, the Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene was delighted to join the Institute of Museum and Library Service’s Museums for All program and offer reduced admission to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card holders, those receiving food assistance. Museums for All is a national, branded access program that encourages individuals of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong museum habits. Setting our Museums for All admission rates at $1 for individuals and $5 for families—a significant discount from our already affordable general admission rates of $6 and $12—we looked forward to welcoming more visitors for whom cost had been a barrier to the museum.  

Are people taking advantage of the program? Absolutely! And they are doing so in greater numbers each year.

But we saw a slow and sporadic response at the outset. Upon initial launch, we translated the official Museums for All (MfA) program language into Spanish and produced a bilingual poster for distribution to low-income serving sites around Eugene and Springfield. However, describing the program in both Spanish and English made for a text-heavy poster that likely discouraged readership, and there was no takeaway component that allowed people to keep the information with them and share it with their families. In addition, since the MfA program language was market-tested on a national scale, it missed certain elements that would speak more directly to local audiences—using “EBT card” instead of “Oregon Trail card,” for example, and promoting the nationwide initiative rather than our specific museum and all it has to offer.   

This strategy translated in very sporadic use of program and fairly uneven staff buy-in for the first year. Given few transactions using the discount, front-end staff were forgetting the discount process, leading to awkward conversations at admissions. We eventually recognized that simply having this discount was not the same as being welcoming.

Our museum wanted to be welcoming. So we realigned our approach.

Based on feedback from front-end staff, we learned that referring to an “EBT card” or “SNAP benefits” wasn’t always effective in communicating with visitors at the admission desk; most MfA program constituents were referring to their “Oregon Trail” card. We updated our marketing language to reflect this, and also shifted our strategy from promoting MfA as a standalone program that was primarily identified by its national brand. Instead, we began consistently incorporating our new, locally-tailored program language, adding a line about reduced admission for Oregon Trail cardholders to the standard admission language appearing across all of our marketing materials. This allowed our exhibits and programs to be the front-and-center message while simultaneously communicating the MfA benefit—a strategy that has proven much more engaging to the program’s target audiences.

Although MfA, as an initiative of the Association of Children’s Museums and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is designed to target families, we are seeing equal numbers of young adults and seniors use the discount—an ideal outcome since our museum offers interactive experiences for all ages. The program has translated much better to a broad age demographic than we may have intended, but we are pleased with the result!

What have I learned? My biggest take-away is that being successful with this type of program takes time, ongoing relationships, and an all-in approach from public-serving staff, communications staff, volunteer exhibit hall interpreters, and program coordinators. With data that show us that simply offering free admission doesn’t significantly attract a more income-diverse audience, I’ve learned how critical is the need to refine our strategies and more effectively welcome underserved communities. We look forward to continuing with this program and inviting our whole community to connect with our museum.

*Museums for All is a national, branded access program that encourages individuals of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong museum habits. It is open to participation by any type of museum — including art, history, natural history/anthropology, and general museums, children’s museums, science centers, planetariums, nature centers, historic houses/sites, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and arboretums. Learn more on the Museums for All website.

Sharing Your Community’s Story in the Digital Age

November 18, 2019

By Ron Cook, distrix CEO and Co Founder

Main Street Directors, Chambers of Commerce, Visitor Centers and other organizations tasked with promoting all your community has to offer will benefit from a formal plan to tell your story in today’s digital world. Before you create a more detailed and comprehensive plan, a good place to start is a simple checklist.

  • Google’s search engine results depend on the mobile friendliness of your website. Check your website URL in the Google Mobile Friendly Test and also the Mobile Loading Speed. Each provides specific recommendations for improvement.
  • Review your website content with a critical eye, asking yourself: What are visitors to my site looking for? Experience has shown they want to know what’s going on, where to park, eat, shop and what to do during their visit. They could care less that you are a 501C3 with a four-point approach and don’t want to spend time reading what all of that means. Your home page should provide easy navigation to your businesses by category, event info and pictures and descriptions of what makes your community special, unique and worth a visit.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. The images and videos on your website and social media channels should be high quality and include people having a great time! Your Main Street story should focus not on the what, and more about the why. Show prospective visitors why they should visit your downtown through pictures, videos and descriptions showing people actually experiencing your town.
  • We live in a mobile world. Search for information about your community on mobile devices, starting with a simple Google search. Next, try an “OK Google” voice search, as well as other digital assistants. What do Siri, Alexa and Cortana have to say?
  • Take control of your Google My Business listing, making sure pictures and information are current and best represent your community. Check to see what available local info apps such as TripAdvisor and Yelp have listed for your community. Participate in the free national Main Street mobile network and use your free mobile app to reach today’s huge mobile audience.
  • Transition your historic or art walking tour to provide it on mobile devices. Printed maps and brochures are a thing of the past. Your visitors have a powerful tool in the palm of their hand. They don’t want to know when and where you would like them to go find a brochure to take a tour. They want to start right here, right now. More importantly, a smartphone-based tour can include scrollable pictures and descriptions, as well as rich and immersive audio narration, providing “local color” and presenting the vibrant history of your community.

This list could go on and on, but following these six simple steps is a good start in the right direction.

Dr. Ron Cook is CEO and co-founder of distrx, a mobile marketing platform and application designed exclusively for Main Streets. He presented at the 2019 Oregon Main Street Conference and is a frequent lecturer on trends for Main Street communities and the practical use of technology.

People Seek Authentic Community

November 4, 2019

By: Dayton Community Development Association

Our historic courthouse square is the center of downtown Dayton. Six years ago, to capitalize on this asset, Dayton Community Development Association started Friday Nights, a free, family-friendly celebration every Friday night from June through August that includes live musical performances, activities for kids, and a market in the park. The idea was to build community, create a sense of place, and strengthen the local economy by drawing visitors and resident to downtown Dayton.

This is where we met Mary. Mary is a retired banker and life-long resident of Dayton. At age 86 she doesn’t get out of the house as much as she used to, but she loves the Friday Night concert series. When we were getting the program off the ground, she was our guaranteed regular, sitting in a bench in the front row with a smile on her face. She has become a favorite of the kids who like to dance by the band, and the vendors know her by name.

One June we had an incredibly rainy evening and weren’t sure it was worth starting the concert. But, sure enough, there was Mary, in the front row, holding an umbrella, with a smile on her face. Our team quickly upgraded her to a golf umbrella to keep her a bit dryer. Soon one of the food vendors came over and assembled a pop-up tent over Mary’s bench. It didn’t take long before a few other community members emerged from restaurants surrounding the park and joined Mary under the tent. As the rain cleared-up, Mary was at the center of a group of other smiling community members enjoying the music.

Bringing community members together in our historic downtown helps create our vibrant community.

Attendance of Friday Nights has increased steadily over the years. We see local residents who come every week as well as folks who drive in from surrounding communities. When we speak with locals and visitors alike we hear the same thing: people come to Friday Nights because they love the atmosphere and community feel. They like eating ice cream at the shop on the corner and popping into the mercantile to pick up a birthday gift. While they may not know we have 41 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, they know they like the feeling of where they are. It’s both the people and the place that make Downtown Dayton’s vibrant community. Dayton Community Development Association connects people to downtown, creating a sense of place and community. 

This post is an example of value messaging from the Sharing the Value of Heritage Toolkit. The Value of Heritage Message Platform can help you communicate not only what you do, but why it matters, which helps build support and understanding for Oregon’s heritage.

Northwest’s First Women-Owned and Operated Landscape Architecture Firm

October 28, 2019

By: Bobbie Dolp, Lord and Schryver Conservancy

Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver

Amidst the events of 1929 was the opening of the first Northwest all women landscape architecture firm Elizabeth Lord-Edith Schryver in Salem, Oregon.  In their forty years of practice, Lord & Schryver developed plans for over 200 sites, including residential, civic and institutional settings, and ranging from Seattle to Klamath Falls and the Oregon Coast to Walla Walla WA.  Their legacy is very broad; in addition to the landscape architecture component, they were educators, writers, world travelers, civic activists, leaders within their profession, women operating in a man’s world and successful entrepreneurs having started their enterprise in the year of the Crash.

Elizabeth Lord (1887-1976) was a native Salemite whose father served as governor and Supreme Court judge. Her mother, Juliet, was an ardent gardener.  In 1926 Elizabeth enrolled at the Lowthorpe School in Groton MA, a rigorous 3-year curriculum in landscape architecture for women only.

Edith Schryver (1901-1984) grew up in Kingston NY.  She studied at Lowthorpe from 1920-1923 after which she became a prized intern in Ellen Shipman’s New York office.  In 1927 they met on a 3-month tour of European gardens sponsored by Lowthorpe. It was this journey that led Edith to move west in December 1928.  As Edith said, “We were free-swinging career girls, and nobody questioned us.”

While residential design work led to the most numerous commissions, it was their civic and public work (streetscapes and city parks) that remains today as a significant influence on the environment in Salem and the Northwest.  As writers and educators, they traveled the state giving lectures, doing radio shows (early days of KOAC), and teaching at what is now Oregon State University.  They were leaders among their peers; setting high standards,  establishing professional organizations and mentoring young women. 

Gaiety Hollow, the site of their former home, personal garden and studio in Salem is now owned by the Lord &Schryver Conservancy, a non-profit whose mission is to “preserve, interpret and steward the legacy …. for public enrichment.”  Gaiety Hollow is listed in the National Register of Historic Places for it’s significance related to women’s history. Restoration of the gardens, development of educational programs and workshops, and opening the gardens to the public are on-going activities.  Please check our website; to learn more. 

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Vote. Do you know of other important Oregon places associated with women’s history? These may be residences, business places, social gathering spaces, sites for suffrage and women’s rights efforts, burial sites, campuses, etc… Please provide all information and documentation you can to inform our Historic Sites Database.

Access + Outreach: A Multi-Level Approach

October 14, 2019

By Maria Cunningham, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Reed College

Access and Outreach are fundamental principles of the library profession. At Reed Special Collections and Archives (RSCA), access and outreach are at the foundation of our service model. We want patrons to feel like they belong in the space and that they have some sense of ownership over the materials. To achieve this goal, we engage in what we call “multi-level outreach.” Multi-level outreach consists of the programs and services that promote the collection as well as the internal work that ensures the collection is accessible, easily searchable, and usable. There are several ways we have approached this over the last couple years but our main focus has been to increase access and to do more outreach to highlight the collections.

RSCA is located on Lower level 2 in the library. There were no signs telling patrons how to get to us, and the door was always closed. One of the first things we did was to purchase a sandwich board sign that showed our hours and pointed the way downstairs. Next we opened the door to make it more welcoming and reconfigured the reading room to give patrons more space.

The internal work done to make the collection more accessible took a lot more work. First we started with much needed webpage redesign. To make our collections searchable to patrons, we migrated our PDF finding aids into ArchivesSpace. As a result, patrons can now search all of our archival holdings through our (much clearer!) website.  

Thanks to our new sign, we received a lot of walk-in visitors who were curious about what is in the collection. We selected some of our most well-known items and created a “Fun Shelf” that we can quickly pull from to show as examples. To reach a wider audience outside of Reed, we created an Instagram account (@reedspecialcollections) to showcase the collection and advertise our events. To reach out to student donors, we set up an information table in the dining hall where we handed out treats and talked to students about how they can donate their materials to archives. 

All of these activities involved a lot of planning, meetings, and setbacks but the results have been great. We are getting more classes, students, and community members using RSCA. We have a lot more planned and are excited to reach out to new audiences!

Get Involved with Oregon Archaeology

October 3, 2019

By: John Pouley, Assistant State Archaeologist, Oregon SHPO

October is Archaeology Month, which is a great time for everyone to get involved with archaeology! Each year, Oregon celebrates with a themed poster and a calendar of archaeology events. This year’s theme, fittingly, is Public Archaeology. If you have ever wanted to learn more about archaeology, attend talks by professional archaeologists, visit a museum with archaeological collections, or even volunteer for an archaeological project, there may be an opportunity closer than you think!

The 2019 Oregon Archaeology Month poster includes images of public participants who have had the opportunity to work with professional archaeologists across the state. Some were able to learn about important events and activities of the past by participating in archaeological studies at the very places where the events and activities occurred. Others interacted with professional archaeologists at public events. From a military fort on the coast to Chinese mining in eastern Oregon, to the annual Portland State University sponsored Archaeology Roadshow, the opportunities allowed anyone with an interest in archaeology to learn more.

Learning to use the atlatl

Archaeology is the study of the past, based on relationships between places and associated artifacts that help tell a story. Archaeologists collect information using a variety of archival references, field methods, lab analyses, ethnographic and historic sources, contemporary interviews, contextual relationships – pretty much any available information source, to help learn as much as possible about these past activities, events, and associated places.

The current body of archaeological research supports a rich vibrant picture of the people that have lived within Oregon’s state boundaries from the end of the last Ice Age, over 14,000 years ago, up to the more recent past. Many current Oregonians are direct descendants of these people, from those here since time immemorial, to Chinese emigrants of the latter 1800s, Oregon Trail trekkers, early military fort soldiers and officers, settlers, etc. Archaeological sites and information on their location are protected under state law. Due to these necessary protections, archaeologists try to find creative ways to involve the public so they can learn about the incredible and ancient history of what we now call Oregon. If you are interested in learning more, please check out our Calendar of Archaeology Events or visit Oregon State Historic Preservation Office’s Archaeological Services web page.