Trish Yerges
The La Grande Observer

The Elgin Museum and Historical Society is gearing up for its Riverfest debut.

“The museum’s collections represent the rich heritage of the communities of Imbler, Summerville, Elgin, Sammyville and Wallowa County,” said Gerald Hopkins, EMHS president.

The arrangement of the museum’s collections has been underway for the past three months. Charlie Horn has taken a prominent role in that work, clocking in countless hours organizing the artifacts into exhibits to fill the 1,920-square-foot building.

Horn has privately been collecting local history since he graduated from Elgin High School, and he has donated five of his personal history scrapbooks to the museum’s research library. They are filled with news clippings, published photos, funeral service cards and obituaries.

The research library also has a collection of about 12 of Nels Rasmussen’s blacksmith ledgers with names of customers from 1909 to 1960, a collection of Elgin National Bank cash books from 1890 to 1916, Elgin High School yearbooks and an old family Bible printed in German, among other materials and oral history videos that can be examined onsite by the museum’s visitors.

“We’re looking for more recent written histories like when Riverfest started, histories that will be old in a few more years,” EMHS board member Maureen Smolkowski said.

The museum’s exhibits are organized by categories, including Elgin schools, agriculture, a Stella Mayfield tribute, military, Elgin Stampeders, lumber/logging, local businesses and advertisements, home and household, saloons, fire department, ranching, and The Elgin Recorder exhibit.

The Elgin Recorder exhibit will be expanded in the future to include artifacts owned by the late Ethel May Smith (1921-2016), who started as a reporter for The Elgin Recorder in 1971 and eventually became its editor for six and a half years before retiring in 1980. She then reopened The Recorder and her first issue as editor/publisher was on May 19, 1993. Keenly interested in history, she was instrumental in the designation of the Elgin Opera House as a historic building on the National Historic Registry on Oct. 10, 1980. For her contributions, she was awarded “Woman of the Year” in 1984 by the Elgin Chamber. Her newspaper artifacts will be donated by her daughter Dr. Roselyn Smith of Miami, Florida.

“Of the displays, the business and advertisement display is my favorite,” Horn said.

Some of the colored ads on display are from old calendars that promote businesses like Owl Drugstore, Johnson Clothier, Hotel Elgin, Sander’s Texaco Service Station, Parks City Drugstore and L.J. Bibler General Merchant. There’s also a souvenir plate for Goodnough Mercantile & Stock Company.

Also on display in this category are postcard advertisements.

“Some of these smaller ones are actually printed in Elgin,” Smolkowski said.

In a display case are deep blue souvenir cups bearing business names like Hug Brothers and artifacts from Roulet Pool Hall.

“The Hug Brothers Store was a grocery store, and they also had a clothing and shoe store and a cherry orchard,” Horn said.

Another active museum organizer, board member Jacki Phillips, has been going through the large photo collections. She has prepared a box of loose photos that museum guests can look through to help identify the people in them.

In the agriculture exhibit there are many framed photos, partially labeled, such as one with Harlan Yarington sitting on numerous bags of grain. Elginites would recognize that surname as one of their county roads on Cricket Flat, though misspelled on the road sign as Yarrington Road.

Hopkins pointed out that the jail in the backyard near the Elgin Opera House will be moved closer to the museum.

“We have contracted with James Johnson of Johnson’s Quality Construction of Elgin to move that jail behind the museum sometime within a month,” Horn said.

Besides the jail acquisition, Hopkins has future dreams of creating a historic village that will make the museum site a destination stop for tourists. The village will include a jail, a one-room schoolhouse and maybe a church.

“The city was excited about this idea,” Hopkins said.

The public is invited to make the Elgin Museum one of their stops during Riverfest, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 15. The grand opening of the new museum, 180 N. Eighth Ave., is free to attend, though donations will be accepted.

“We’d like to especially invite the Elgin High School alumni, who will be attending the alumni banquet at Riverfest, to come to the museum and look over our exhibits,” Hopkins said. “Maybe they can identify some of our photos or give us information about what they see here.”

The museum’s grand opening is the beginning of a new era for the EMHS and celebrated by its board of directors, including Hopkins, Everett Grandeen (vice president), Andrew Luse (secretary), David Reed (treasurer), Vicki Correl, Phillips, Jim Way, Steve Oliver, Smolkowski, Dina Allen and Kathy Patten, plus associates Charlie Horn, Sue Horn, Stacy Miller and Marshall Kilby. In addition, biologist-writer Harlan Scott is a frequent contributor to the Elgin Museum and Historical Society’s newsletter.

The EMHS board of directors is grateful for those who have donated artifacts, cabinets, clothes racks and display cases to furnish the museum building. The organization would gladly accept more display cases and historic artifacts for any of their exhibits.

For more information or to make a donation of furnishings or historical artifacts from your community, contact Hopkins at 541-534-4390. The public is welcome to attend the meetings of the EMHS board on the first Monday of each month at the museum.