Dean Kahn

History taking root this year as Sumas marks 125th anniversary as border community

From left to right, Sumas Historical Society members Lizette Custer, board member, Gail Kihn, treasurer, and Deborah Morgan, president, hold artifacts in front of the future museum of the Sumas Historical Society on Thursday, Aug. 18. Custer is holding a collection of photos of the historical John C. Gillies home where she currently lives. Kihn is holding a Clayburn brick, made in nearby Clayburn, B.C., which was used in the construction of many buildings in Sumas. Morgan is holding a rifle she found in 1978 with a metal detector at the site of one of Sumas' original houses.
From left to right, Sumas Historical Society members Lizette Custer, board member, Gail Kihn, treasurer, and Deborah Morgan, president, hold artifacts in front of the future museum of the Sumas Historical Society on Thursday, Aug. 18. Custer is holding a collection of photos of the historical John C. Gillies home where she currently lives. Kihn is holding a Clayburn brick, made in nearby Clayburn, B.C., which was used in the construction of many buildings in Sumas. Morgan is holding a rifle she found in 1978 with a metal detector at the site of one of Sumas' original houses. eabell@bhamherald.com

The birthday celebration for Sumas’ 125th anniversary this year was a modest affair, but 2016 may well be remembered as the year history came of age in the small border town.

A new group, the Sumas Historical Society, formed this spring, and in July the City Council approved a plan to let the group convert an empty city-owned house into a combination history museum and visitor information center.

The driving force behind the effort is Deborah Morgan, whose father, Burl Beane, moved to Sumas in 1961 to become director of the Customs border crossing there. Her father loved history, and spent considerable time collecting old photographs and other items documenting the history of the border station, railroads, and other aspects of Sumas history.

Morgan, who shares her father’s ardor for community roots, has talked of the need for a Sumas museum for years. Her father died two decades ago and she wants to preserve and display his photographs and other history items.

A former parsonage at 114 Second St., close to downtown Sumas, is in line to become a history museum and visitor center.

“I wanted to share it with someone,” she said.

Two years ago she started a history blog called Nooksack Valley Nostalgia, and this spring she spread the word about forming a historical society to focus on the Sumas area. So far, about a dozen supporters of the group have been meeting in Sumas’ senior center.

In June, Morgan approached the Sumas City Council with the idea of the society fixing up the two-story house at 114 Second St., a half-block east of downtown.

The house, originally a Methodist parsonage, was most recently used for a youth center. Morgan said the upper floor would be used for offices and to store history resources. The main floor would have history displays, space for meetings, and brochures and similar materials for tourists.

Geri Lewis, the city’s clerk-treasurer, said she likes the idea of designating a visitor information center other than City Hall, where she works.

“None of us are tourist guides,” Lewis said. “The mayor volunteered us.”

Morgan and other society supporters, including retiree Gail Kihn, have lots of ideas for the museum, are eager to fix it up, but are waiting for the city to detail how the society and city will share responsibilities for the house.

Sumas Library and Sumas Historical Society recently won a $4,997 state grant to digitize historical photographs and documents.

Kihn and Morgan have been busy visiting museums in the region for ideas, and have been contacting volunteer experts willing to help.

Morgan, who works part-time at Sumas Library, has previously volunteered at Burnaby Village Museum in British Columbia, and at Philmont Museum, at the massive Boys Scouts of America ranch in New Mexico.

The Historical Society’s effort, and Sumas Library, recently got a boost in the form of a $4,997 grant from the Washington State Library to digitize and make accessible early Sumas photographs and documents.

Morgan and Kihn are full of ideas for the history museum. Along with displays and collections, possibilities include history tours of the Sumas city cemetery, outdoor exhibits of large artifacts, programs to help residents document the history of their houses, horse-carriage tours of historic homes and other sites, outdoor movies, author talks, and cleanup work parties at St. Anne’s Cemetery, west of Sumas off Halverstick Road.

Once the paperwork with the city is final, society members will begin removing the kitchen in the house, cleaning and painting, and setting up offices and displays. Despite the work ahead and the need to raise money, Morgan remained optimistic about the project’s potential.

“We’d like to think it’s a steppingstone,” she said.

Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291

Test your knowledge about Sumas

(1) The first non-Indians who came to the Sumas area were ...

A) Trappers and traders.

B) Railroad workers.

C) Land surveyors.

D) Canadians looking for a bargain.

(2) In the early days, Sumas was called ...

(A) Sumas.

(B) Sumas City.

(C) Sumastopolis.

(D) Those Tents Over There.

(3) What made 1892/1893 a memorable time in Sumas?

(A) First mail-in election ballots used in the country.

(B) During a cross-country trip, President Grover Cleveland spent New Year’s Eve and Day in Sumas.

(C) Economic crisis brought most business activity to a halt.

(D) Sumas opens the first brewpub in the Northwest.

(4) What was found in the North Cascades in 1897 that dramatically changed life in Sumas?

(A) Silver.

(B) Gold.

(C) Easy-to-cross mountain route for railroads.

(D) The answer to life.

(5) What was significant about the Sumas Roundup during the first half of the 1900s?

(A) Rodeo contestants rode sheep, bulls and llamas, but no horses.

(B) Sumas taxpayers covered the cost and shared the revenue.

(C) The rodeo drew tens of thousands of spectators, making it one of the largest in the nation.

(D) It was the first alcohol-free rodeo west of the Mississippi.

Answers: (1) A, (2) B, (3) C, (4) B, (5) C

Sumas Historical Society

Contacts: Deborah Morgan at 360-988-7829 or debbeane65@gmail.com; and Gail Kihn at 360-988-0322.

Nooksack Valley Nostalgia: Go to nooksackvalleynostalgia.blogspot.com for Deborah Morgan’s history blog about Sumas, Nooksack and Everson.

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