When the Aberdeen Museum of History burned down in June 2018, a team from the Washington State Archives played a crucial role in rushing to rescue and restore thousands of historic artifacts, historical documents and photographs from the basement archives before water and soot damage destroyed them.
To recognize the effort by the State Archives and Washington State Library to preserve Grays Harbor history, the Washington State Historical Society will present both groups one of its seven annual awards — the David Douglas Award, recognizing contributions to inform or expand appreciation of Washington State History.
Three days after the fire that destroyed Aberdeen’s Armory, which housed the museum, a team of state archivists was sent by Secretary of State Kym Wyman. Numerous boxes of historic documents from the basement of the museum were transferred to a warehouse in Tumwater. Most of the damage was from water that seeped into the basement as firefighters tried to douse the flames.
For several weeks, staff from the Archives and State Library, as well as volunteers, cleaned and dried each and every photo and artifact from the basement, and State Archivist Steve Excell estimated 98 or 99 percent of all the items they recovered were saved.
“Looking back, we can’t believe how much stuff was processed and saved,” said Excell. “I’m surprised, but we’re gratified the historical society recognized the efforts that went into rescuing the records.”
John Shaw, vice chair of Aberdeen’s Board of Museum and History, said the award was well-deserved, and that John Hughes, Chief Historian for the Secretary of State and former editor and publisher of The Daily World, nominated the Archives and State Library for the award along with Tom Quigg, commissioner for the Port of Grays Harbor and a local historian. Hughes is one of the society’s trustees.
“The state archives and library really went above and beyond in their work, it’s very well-deserved,” said Shaw.
The documents have all been separated and cleaned, but the archivists are still working through the flattening process. Excell explained that the documents are re-humidified before placing weights on them to eliminate the waves and sections that pop up. He said that process could take up to a year to complete.
Excell said it’s a slow process, but that he’s heard from the museum board in Aberdeen about interest in getting the Aberdeen City Council to fund an intern or work-study position to help speed up the process.
The City Council will also honor the State Archives and Library at tonight’s regular meeting with a resolution recognizing them for the state award.
The state award will be presented to Excell, the State Archives and the State Library at a luncheon Sept. 21 at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma from 12 to 2 p.m. Tickets to attend are $25 and available on the Washington State Historical Society website.