June 8, 2022 — Lifelong Florence resident Del Phelps has had a fear that kept him up at night. But he’s sleeping a little better these days.
“An orange glow shows from the window. Soon, it radiates out another. And another. Before the neighbors can call 911 the entire library wing of the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum is engulfed in a roaring inferno spreading unimpeded into the main building with all its priceless artifacts. The fire department arrives in time to evacuate the block and save...almost nothing,” explains Phelps of his nightmare.
Phelps, a direct descendant of Siuslaw region pioneers, local real estate professional and avid community volunteer, currently serves as the museum’s board president. Local history and the preservation of it, is his passion.
As of June 5, Phelps and the museum’s volunteer board of directors are sleeping sounder and have nearly 88,000 reasons to celebrate. They set an $88,000 goal for a fire suppression system for both museum buildings and the porch area: $41,000 for the system itself, $25,000 to connect the building to a city water main and another $14,000 to $15,000 for permits, delays and some for possible overruns common to projects of this size.
“That’s why the board budgeted $88,000 for its Artifact Preservation Initiative,” he explained.
Phelps took action and secured a $20,000 private matching grant from a consortium of local families who share his passion for preserving Florence’s past. Other board members went to the community and raised nearly $23,000 to meet the match. Bob and Kay King made a personal contribution of $5,000.
Board member Cindy Gentry started applying for grants, gaining an Oregon Heritage grant of $20,000.
In total, the group raised nearly $78,000 in three months to preserve the area’s treasure trove of history.
But it was a $10,000 grant from the Bonneville Power Administration, gained through a collaboration of Susy Lacer, local professional grant writer, and Bettina Hannigan, president/CEO of the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce, in connection with Tama Tochihara, Senior Historian at Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), that helped push the group over the top to reach their goal.
“We were able to leverage this grant with BPA for use in Florence, and the chamber recommended the museum and its fire suppression needs as the recipient,” said Hannigan. “The chamber asked for and received the grant to protect our community’s historic treasure trove.”
According to Phelps, the work on the fire suppression system has already begun.
“Thank you to our dedicated board, key community friends, museum operations manager Harry Zinn, Bettina, Susy and the BPA foundation, we’re there,” he said. “This incredible investment in the museum’s safety and preservation of priceless and irreplaceable artifacts protects this historic building, items brought across the Oregon and Applegate Trails, prized pieces from local first-nations people, industry and household implements from the 1800s and archives of directories, yearbooks and newspapers. Those treasures are an investment in the greater good of this community’s shared story and identity.”
Those wishing to contribute to the museum’s general fund for new acquisitions, preservation and maintenance can do so online at SiuslawPioneerMuseum.org, by mailing a check to the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum, PO Box 2637, Florence OR 97439, or by dropping off a financial gift at the museum, 278 Maple St. Contributions of $20 or more come with annual passes to the museum.
Visitors to the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum are transported through time by a diversity of exhibits showing slices of life from before white settlers made their way to the Siuslaw Region and up to life in the 1950s.
On display are two floors of displays featuring items from an authentic dug-out canoe and first-people’s tools and apparel, to household items of pioneer homesteaders; from early logging and fishing implements to the control panel once used by the drawbridge operator; and one of the first telephone switchboards. Visitors will learn about the hardscrabble life of those who started the logging and fishing industries around Florence in the midto late-1800s and see examples of the delicate side of life through the place settings and handiwork of talented lace and quiltmakers.
To learn more about the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum, its exhibits, hours, membership, tours and admission, visit SiuslawPioneerMuseum.com or call 541-9977884.