Yelm Prairie Historical Museum is looking for volunteers to keep its doors open

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By Daniel Warn / [email protected]

The Yelm Prairie Historical Museum is a time capsule from a simpler era, but that capsule could have an expiration date if people don’t do anything to support it.

The Third Street Museum reopened on June 4 after a COVID-19-related shutdown, but its staff have wondered if they will open it, at least not yet. That’s because the city is considering giving the museum a new space after opening a new community development center, but this project is still in its infancy, said Gene Coulter, museum volunteer.

“We almost closed the museum, at least until we moved, but we decided it would hurt us more than help us, so we decided to open with reduced hours,” Coulter said.

The Yelm Prairie Historical Museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, barely half of its usual hours.

“Now we do four-hour shifts twice a week to try to keep it open,” Coulter said of the museum’s volunteer workforce. “We need people to help us endow it and who are interested in Yelm’s story. People who have come here and know Yelm. People who can answer questions and there are a lot of questions.

The museum houses period-dressed mannequins, a vintage wagon, models of prairie pioneers, old typewriters or cash registers and more.

“Pretty much everything is in the museum,” Coulter said. “Different articles, artefacts, images. … Basically, that’s Yelm’s story.

He said it’s important to preserve Yelm’s seniority, but its importance is entirely up to the person. Some people just don’t care about the past and just want to squeeze out the future.

“Some people think (preserving history) is great,” Coulter said. “Some people are not affected. Fortunately, there are people who are concerned and that is why we have (the museum). I hope it will get bigger, but right now there are a lot of people here.

He said he didn’t have a favorite part of the museum.

“Everything is interesting,” Coulter said. “I’ve been here for so long that you recognize a lot. … I moved here when I was 7 in 1946.

Coulter worked for Harold Wolf, in the Wolf store which was housed in the Wolf Building still standing on First Street and Yelm Avenue. There is a wall-sized photo of the grocery store and general dry goods store in the museum. And Coulter lit up when talking about his former boss.

“Wolves were the city,” Coulter said. “They supported everyone, supported us. There was no bank in town. Wolf was the bank. He had a credit system… and people paid him monthly.

He said the Yelm that stands today is almost unrecognizable now, except for old buildings like the Wolf’s.

“Yelm has changed by about 95%,” he said. “Some for good and some for bad.”

He said the region’s rapid growth can be seen as a bad thing from the perspective of someone who has been in town for as long as they have been.

“Anytime you have growth at this rate, it’s not good for the community, I think,” Coulter said. “People who have lived here for so long are not used to it. There are too many people, too many people. And too many problems come with it.

As he spoke, Coulter made it clear that he yearned for a different, simpler and less cluttered time – for the Yelm in which he built a house, the Yelm which the museum portrays with vivid clarity.

“(Yelm had) around 380 people,” he said. “No paved roads except 507 and 510. Everyone knew everyone. If someone ran into someone in the store and didn’t know them, they were either new or visiting. One of the two. It’s the truth. This is how it was, much less confusing.

The Yelm Prairie Historical Museum is sponsored by the Town of Yelm and was founded in 2008. To participate, dial 360-458-4114 during museum hours.

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