The Vashon Heritage Museum campus, including the museum, which resides in the former Vashon Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the neighboring parsonage, both built in 1909, are being nominated as a King County Landmark. On Thursday, October 26, a public hearing will be held at the Land Trust Building at 5 p.m., where the King County Landmarks Commission will hear the application for landmark status.
The fact that the Heritage Museum is located in a former church is doubly significant, because a church and a museum are sacred spaces.
A church, by its very nature as a place of worship, is a sacred space. Vashon Evangelical Lutheran Church was built by Norwegian immigrants to Vashon and their children, who came to worship, hear faith-based stories, and reflect on their faith.
A museum is also a sacred space. The word museum, derived from the Greek word mouseîon and the Latin mouseion, means the sanctuary of the muses. The Muses are the nine inspiring goddesses of literature, science and the arts who give us knowledge. The Place of the Muses is a sacred place where people go to consult the muses, learn, and acquire knowledge.
The Vashon Heritage Museum is a sacred place where we go to find answers to our questions about who we are as islanders, to hear Vashon stories, and to reflect on how we islanders became what we are. we are.
The Vashon Highway SW four-way stop marks the center of Vashon’s historic commercial district. The Vashon Heritage Museum campus is located about two blocks west on Bank Road. This stretch of Bank Road, between the four-way stop and Mukai Way (107th SW), represents the symbolic heart of Vashon’s agriculture, seniors, environment, safety and heritage.
The Village Green and VIGA Saturday Market anchor this stretch starting just north of the four-way stop. The Senior Center (former Vashon Library) on the next corner, with the Land Trust (former Christian Science Reading Room) next to it, represents Vashon’s seniors and the incredibly successful preservation of open space on the island.
The Vashon Fire Station located next door and across the street, the King County Local Service Center, and the Penny Farcy Memorial Training Center keep Islanders safe in the event of an emergency. The campus of the Vashon Heritage Museum and a quarter mile farther west on Mukai Way (107th SW), the Mukai House and Garden represent the best in preserving and telling the island’s history. Along this stretch are many small businesses and homes.
The museum building is easily identifiable as an ancient church with its steeply pitched front gable roof and tall lancet (pointed arch) windows on both sides illuminating the open space inside. The parsonage, with its hipped roof, prominent dormers, cornice returns, and full-width porch with square columns, represents a simplified Victorian eclectic style widely represented in late 19th-century plan books.
The paired church and rectory represent a rare and intact property type that represents the ethnic settlement patterns and religious and cultural practices of Norwegian immigrant communities during the early 20th century settlement of the region. Salish Sea.
The church building served the Vashon Lutheran community until 1962, when a new Vashon Lutheran Church was built on land purchased south of the town of Vashon.
The rectory was rented for much of the first half of the 20th century, as ministers generally came from outside the island. After World War II, the rectory was occupied by the minister or was used as a Sunday school classroom, meeting space, and minister’s office when not in use as the minister’s residence.
After 1962, the church building served many community uses over the next thirty-six years, until it was purchased by the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association in 1998 to become the Vashon Heritage Museum . The distinctive features of the old church have been preserved while it has been adapted to serve as a preschool, antiques store, art center, daycare and Vashon Heritage Museum.
Beginning in 1969, the island’s first Head Start program operated out of the building, and from 1976 to 1979, a retail store known as The Old Town Shop or Old Town Shop Antiques was located in the building . From 1978 to 1981, the church was home to the nonprofit Vashon Allied Arts (VAA).
The VAA grew out of the Vashon Arts League, established by island artists in 1949, and the group achieved federal 501(c)3 status in 1966, making it the oldest non-profit community arts organization lucrative business in Washington State. When VAA leased the former Lutheran Church in late 1978, the building was already painted blue and Island artist Kji Wyn Berry named it the Blue Heron Arts Center.
The nonprofit community theater organization Drama Dock, established in 1976, also used the facility for performances during the VAA’s tenure. VAA leased the former Oddfellows Hall and Rebekah Lodge to the Center in 1981 and transferred the Blue Heron name to this new house, which was designated a King County Landmark in 1985 and purchased by VAA in 1988.
Following VAA’s departure from the Lutheran church, the building was sold in 1983 to Vashon Children’s Center (VCC), a nonprofit organization. Founded in 1970, the Center operated the first state-licensed child care center on the island, initially opening at 5:45 a.m. to support parents who were traveling off-island.
VCC operated on the church property until 1998, when they offered the building on favorable terms to the Vashon Maury Island Heritage Association (VMIHA). For VMIHA, the acquisition of the old church in 1998 represented a major accomplishment toward the organization’s primary goal of creating a community museum, an effort in the works for more than two decades.
A founding committee consisting of George McCormick, Mike Kirk and Reed Fitzpatrick issued an invitation in 1975 to all members of the community to join a new group dedicated to “reflecting the past, present and future of these islands” in the aim of establishing “a living museum with places for historical relics, but with ever-changing exhibits about the present and future as well as the past.”
Members began collecting artifacts, photographs and documents related to the history of the Island. VMIHA was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1976. Following the purchase of the former Vashon Lutheran Church, VMIHA began restoring and transforming the building into the Vashon Heritage Museum. A large crowd attended the groundbreaking ceremony and ribbon cutting on June 29, 2003.
Following the decision to build a new church in 1959, the Vashon Evangelical Lutheran Church sold the parsonage to a series of private owners. The owners, or their tenants over the years, have maintained the rectory generally well maintained, with occasional modest renovation projects that have supported continued use as a single-family home, while preserving the historic nature of the building.
In 2014, the Vashon Maury Island Heritage Association purchased the Old Rectory, with funds donated by community members and obtained through a grant from 4Culture, King County’s cultural development authority. Currently, the rectory is leased to a residential tenant and VMIHA plans to adapt it in the future for use to enhance the Museum’s mission.
The Vashon Evangelical Lutheran Church and its associated rectory represent the aspirations of a specific immigrant community a century ago, and the church building has remained a community gathering place through many incarnations of adaptive reuse , including its current role as the island’s collective repository for its history, memories and stories.
Describing the role of American country churches, historian William Morgan wrote: “These churches express community – something beyond our daily concerns and to which we all belong. By reminding us who we are, they provide a sense of security, especially in times of crisis. Above all, they touch a sensitive chord of continuity.
The Vashon Heritage Museum continues this tradition of “reminding us who we are” and providing “the rope of continuity” from the past to the present and the future.
The historical information in this article is based on the King County Historic Landmark nomination for the Vashon Heritage Museum authored by Holly Taylor, with support from 4Culture.
The Vashon Heritage Museum brings together interior and exterior photographs of the former Vashon Evangelical Lutheran Church in all its incarnations (church, preschool, store, arts center, daycare) and rectory. Do you have family photos you can share? Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bruce Haulman is an Island historian. Terry Donnelly is an island photographer.