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Tolt museum finds new home at Carnation Farm

  • Written by Lisa Allen
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Tolt Historical Society Museum Director Isabel Jones views the lighted Tolt High School display in the museum’s new location at Carnation Farm. Hanging around the mannequin’s neck is Isabel’s saxophone she played while in the high school band. Jones is a 1941 graduate of the old three-story Tolt High School. The new location of the museum means it now shares space with the farm’s collection of memorabilia, including an array of old horsedrawn carriages. Photo by Lisa Allen.
CARNATION–When Elbridge Stuart heard the Tolt Historical Society Museum was about to be evicted from the Sno-Valley Senior Center, he knew he could help.

Stuart, great-grandson of Carnation Farms founder EA Stuart, contacted museum director Isabel Jones and offered to house the collection in one of the farm’s buildings.

"We have 350,000 feet of space there," he said last week in a telephone interview. "I knew Isabel was an important part of the community and had a need so I wanted to see that she got some assistance."

So over the past year, as the senior center began its $330,000 remodeling project that took the museum’s spot on the second floor, the historical collection began to be moved, piece-by-piece, to one of the original cow barns on the hill. It is now sharing space with the farm’s collection of horse-drawn and early motorized vehicles and other dairy-related items.

The farm’s antique carriages and other equipment take up about two-thirds of the building’s interior, leaving the remainder to the Tolt museum’s artifacts.

A back room is being readied to hold a collection of 32 antique dolls that are currently residing in Isabel’s garage. Isabel herself has been able to save nearly everything from her family, no doubt due to the advantage of living in the same house in Carnation for 62 years.

Among her own items on display at the museum are her grandmother’s sewing machine, her family’s piano, pump organ and violins and her daughter’s 1957 Schwinn bicycle (that, she said, cost more to put new tires on than the original bike). The saxophone she played while in the Tolt High School band hangs around the neck of a mannequin wearing a band uniform. Isabel is a 1941 Tolt High School grad.

The museum’s collection also includes mementoes from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, a selection of beautifully crafted antique handbags, original pharmacy items from Carnation Drug Company, a brass plaque from the old three-story Tolt High School dated 1914, an Oliver typewriter, a silver service owned by the principal of Carnation Elementary and his wife, a teacher (Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Weaver), a switchboard from Lakeside Sand and Gravel, logging and farming equipment, housewares, a butter churn, historical items from the Indian tribes, a uniform from the 1923 Carnation baseball team, fire department memorabilia (Isabel’s dad was Carnation’s first fire chief), a stamp canceling machine and Carnation’s old post office boxes.

The space in the barn is a bit cozy, with two different groups of historical items pretty much filling the rooms, but both collections offer plenty to admire.

"As time goes on, we may expand to one of the other buildings to give both museums more space," Stuart said.

It was indeed a pretty close call for the Tolt Historical Society Museum. The opportunity to move to the farm became possible only because Stuart’s family foundation purchased the property last year from the Camp Korey organization, placing the 818-acre farm back into the hands of the original family’s descendants.

Camp Korey had purchased the property from Nestlé in 2008 in order to create summer camp opportunities for kids suffering from serious and life-threatening illnesses. The farm became the property of Nestlé when it bought the Carnation Company in 1985. Nestlé used the place for corporate gatherings, selling the last of the dairy cows in 2004.

Camp Korey is currently a provisional member of the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, founded by the late actor Paul Newman.

Camp Korey hosted many successful events to help support the camp, but raising enough money appeared be an ongoing challenge.

Stuart explained: "As a member of the Camp Korey Board of Directors finance committee, I could see where things were going so we offered to buy back the farm, giving Camp Korey a 30-year lease so it could continue its mission."

Stuart said his hope is to "continue keeping the history of the place; it’s a landmark for the Valley, we have all the archives and want to outreach to other farmers and the schools – we want to share the history with today’s kids."

He said items are still being found in the farm’s archives, such as old Burns and Allen TV shows that were never aired.

"The Carnation Company sponsored the show," he said. "And there are plenty of other artifacts. We also plan to keep up the gardens and the buildings so Camp Korey can continue to offer weddings and other events there for revenue."

The farm dates back to 1908 when Stuart’s great-grandfather, EA Stuart, purchased the property, expanding it later to the hillside. Stuart said the idea was to get land near where the new railroad was about to be built.

"He wanted to build a world-class farm," said Stuart. "Actually, it was called Carnation Farms (plural), because there were several. At the time dairy cows were producing around 1,500 pounds of milk a year."

EA Stuart’s goal was for his cows to do better, using quality feed and genetics. As a result, on Dec. 19, 1920, a Carnation Farms’ Holstein cow named Segis Pietertje Prospect (Possum Sweetheart) broke the world’s record for milk production for one year. Milked six times a day by hand she produced 37,361 pounds of milk. A statue in her honor was placed at the farm entrance.

"When we sold to Nestlé we were just shy of cloning cows; we were doing lots of work in genetics, creating identical animals," Stuart said. "We now hope to become involved with other farms, such as Full Circle Farm (near Carnation) to do some things jointly, along with involving the local schoolkids."

In the meantime, the Tolt Historical Society Museum is getting closer to its grand opening, set for April 16, from 1-4 p.m. Much is left to be done, though, including painting and other repair work, along with some rearranging.

"We could use some male help," said Isabel. "Mainly we are bunch of women."

Nevertheless, Isabel and her crew are steadfastly moving forward. Isabel, who will be 88 in August, is at the farm nearly every day to help with the operation.

"We are very happy to be here," she said. "The cases look wonderful all lit up and it is nice to have it all together and to be able to keep the museum in one place."

That, she said, was her main concern when she learned the museum would have to leave the senior center where it had been for 15 years. The longtime historical society member has personally accepted and cared for many of the museum’s items over the years. She said there were suggestions to move parts of the collection to various schools and other places, but that would mean splitting it up and possibly never getting it all back together again.

"I just didn’t want that to happen," she said.

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