On October 1, 1903, in Colville, the Stevens County Pioneer Association, later renamed the Stevens County Historical Society, holds its first meeting. Prosecuting attorney John B. Slater (b. 1860) is chairman of the organizing meeting. Upon adoption of a constitution and bylaws, realtor Jacob Stitzel becomes the president, with a board of directors composed of equally distinguished settlers. The purpose of the organization is to commemorate both the Native American peoples and the early pioneers of the region and to collect and preserve the artifacts and records of their experiences. Its collections are housed in various locations until the society builds its own museum and opens the historic Keller House on property leased from the city. Additional buildings and exhibits are acquired to develop a diverse museum complex on the site. The present (2009) name of the organization is the Stevens County Historical Society - Keller Heritage Center. One of the best small museums in the Northwest, it is open to the public from May through September.
Settlers, Indians, and Their History
Early membership rules were stringent. One had to have been a resident of Stevens County by 1889, the year Washington became a state, or a resident of Washington who had moved to Stevens County. Applicants provided date of birth, records of Washington residence, education, marriage and family data, business, club and religious affiliations, and other information. Today membership is open to anyone with an interest in Stevens County history.
The growing collections of the Pioneer Association were housed in a series of increasingly inadequate locations. By the 1970s, the association sought a permanent home for its treasures. Bessie McDowell, widow of cattleman Bud McDowell (1887-1974), donated $20,000 in his memory toward a fund for acquiring property. Somewhat concurrently, the city received from the Louis Keller estate the fine house and grounds on a knoll overlooking the city for use as a park. In 1973 the city turned the property over to the Pioneer Association to manage on a 99-year lease with option to renew. This agreement provided a historic house and ample grounds upon which to build a museum and relocate other buildings from pioneer days. In 1975, the Stevens County Pioneer Association incorporated as Stevens County Historical Society, Inc. The new museum built on the property opened to the public on June 13, 1976.
Restoration on the Keller House was completed by 1978, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. This distinguished residence was designed by Spokane architect Loren L. Rand (1851-1935) and built in 1910 for John Harry Young (1854-1914), an early Colville banker and newspaperman who had made a fortune in mining and real estate. After his death, his widow married hardware dealer Louis G. Keller (1881-1966), and the couple continued to live in the house for years thereafter; hence it came to be called the Keller House. Mainly Craftsman in style, it contains the original Gustav Stickley furnishings (one of the largest concentrations of Stickley furniture in a single location), Tiffany light fixtures and Art Nouveau windows and wallpaper.
The Progress of History
In subsequent years, the society opened a machinery museum and moved to its grounds at Keller Park Colville’s first schoolhouse, a farmstead cabin, the Graves Mountain Fire Lookout, a trapper’s cabin, sawmill equipment, and a blacksmith shop. In 1993, the name of the organization became Stevens County Historical Society -- Keller Heritage Center. Beginning with a major donation from the Patrick Graham family, a large expansion was added to the museum building in 1995.Today (2009) the museum houses more than 5,000 historical artifacts reflecting the Native American heritage, fur trade, missions, pioneer life, agriculture, mining, timber industry, and town development of the region. It attracts not only students and tourists who enjoy and learn from the exhibits and historic buildings but also history researchers and writers who use the society’s outstanding collection of early letters, diaries, records, and photographs.