Day Trip Discoveries: Step back in Snohomish time at Western Heritage Center

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A tractor-powered washing machine.
A tractor-powered washing machine at the Western Heritage Center.

Ever wondered how early settlers pioneered Snohomish County? How they wrestled a living from farming, mining and logging? Visit the Western Heritage Center in Monroe to see this history in hands-on, interactive displays such as an amazingly efficient corn-husking machine, rope-braiding device and vintage tractor collection that kids love to climb on.

The Western Heritage Center is a tucked-away attraction on the Evergreen State Fairgrounds’ east side, just off Highway 2. Its exhibits will intrigue you with the ingenuity employed by those early settlers. Older folks may recall memories of grandparents or great grandparents using some of these contraptions. Younger kids get a glimpse of what life was like before the Internet, TV, cell phones and most modern conveniences we enjoy today. The Western Heritage Center appeals to all ages.

Jerry Senner, a retired Snohomish dairy farmer and antique tractor collector, collected a wealth of vintage implements and tractors. His forefathers homesteaded the Snohomish Valley, and so many of the center’s exhibits have been handed down through his own family. Other items he collected over the years in an effort to preserve the heritage of the Snohomish Valley.

When he retired, he and his wife Nancy established the Western Heritage Center in 2007 to preserve his remarkable collection of historic memorabilia. Other Snohomish Valley residents then began donating items they thought important to contribute to Jerry’s collection.

An 8-foot water wheel is among the highlights.
An 8-foot water wheel is among the highlights.

So a visit to the Western Heritage Center is truly a step back in time. Many of the exhibits include implements and equipment that actually function, thanks to Jerry’s ingenuity. For example, you can operate a corn grinder – and produce corn meal. You can learn how butter was churned, watch an 1883 drill press run by an 8-foot waterwheel, and see a primitive washing machine powered by tractor gearing.

Jerry delighted in showing visitors how everything works until he passed in December 2015. Now Nancy Senner and volunteers guide visitors in making the interactive exhibits work. Some of the mechanical contraptions operate by pushing a button, which triggers a computer program to set the machine in motion and demonstrate how it works. With such guidance, you can even operate a huge steam tractor and cut a log with a tractor-powered device.

Rooms filled with artifacts to enjoy.
Rooms filled with artifacts to enjoy.

“Packed to the rafters” truly describes this living history center. It includes an amazing collection of farm implements, dairy equipment, mining tools, a simulated mine shaft, extensive working model railroad, photo exhibits of Snohomish’s early railroad system, and vintage items that include ancient vacuum cleaners, typewriters, ice boxes and toys.

Among the farm implements, you can see antiques ranging from a seed drill, manure spreader and wheat binder to a threshing machine, potato planter, potato digger and unusual chain saw collection. Watch how belt-driven machines drill wood, cut a log, run other drive belts, grind grain and accomplish many other functions that were necessary to settlers’ lives.

Old gas pumps and other historical items on display.
Old gas pumps and other historical items on display.

There are also vintage cooking stoves, irons and even old Mobil gas pumps. Historical photographs add to your visitor experience, as does the gem and mineral exhibit (part of the mining display).

Outside, Jerry’s antique tractor collection is a magnet for both kids and their dads. Jerry always encouraged supervised climbing on the tractors to engage kids in this aspect of the Snohomish Valley’s living history.

You’re sure to gain a new knowledge of Snohomish Valley history and early settlers’ lives – and a new appreciation of our modern conveniences!

The Western Heritage Center currently is free to visit, but admission donations are requested to help fund its maintenance and the construction of a new building to better house its growing collection. It will begin charging a modest admission later this spring. Do try to visit when the fair or other major events are not scheduled at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds.

Details:

Western Heritage Center
Evergreen State Fairgrounds
Building 611 (SE Corner)
Monroe, WA 98272
425-232-3493
www.westernheritagecenter.org

Hours:
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday
Noon-5 p.m. Sunday

Julie - headshot 2013— By Julie Gangler

Julie Gangler is a freelance writer who has worked as a media relations consultant for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. She began her career as a staff writer at Sunset Magazine and later was the Alaska/Northwest correspondent for Travel Agent Magazine.

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