KP Historical Society Receives Major Grant for Restoration

Thanks to local volunteers, there is light at the end of the tunnel for preserving a Key Peninsula gem.


The Vaughn Library Hall restoration project is on track for completion within its five-year plan thanks to an $83,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust received by the Key Peninsula Historical Society in August.

Built in 1893, it is the last remaining meeting hall on the Key Peninsula.

After being excluded from participation in the Vaughn Horticultural Society — an organization to promote agriculture business on the Key Peninsula — a group of women founded the Vaughn library at the hall in 1894. No men were permitted on the board. The hall became part of the Pierce County Library system in 1946.

The extensive restoration of the historic building began in 2016 after it was donated to the KP Historical Society by Donna Docken. Project manager Bart Wolfe expects the building to be open for limited public use by December. As previously reported by the Key Peninsula News, the project received historic building status by the county and state. The restoration has been supported by grants and private donations. (See “Historic Vaughn Library Hall Restoration,” March 2023.)

Work on the project has been done largely by volunteers.

“At first, the object was to keep the building from falling into further decay and serve as a storage building for the historical society,” said Judy Mills, KPHS president emerita.

Volunteers met weekly for over five years, clearing and hauling countless loads of trash, finally uncovering the treasure hiding in plain sight obscured by years of use and neglect.

As work progressed, so did the vision for the building. The hall had been used as a library, a voting station, for high school play productions, dances, churches and youth group meetings before it became a private residence in 1957. As the volunteers uncovered layers of outdated building materials, abandoned furnishings and equipment, the building seemed to speak to the group.

“When we first put in the windows, this building had eyes on the world again,” said volunteer Joe Dervaes.

Glimpses of early peninsula life on the edge of a bay began to come alive to the group. There is graffiti on the wall behind the old stage written by members of a high school play in the 1920s. The group now envisions a continuance of that life with current peninsula residents using the building in similar ways. “I feel that the walls are talking to us many times,” Mills said.

A driving force in the restoration endeavor, Mills said she would like to see the building open for school field trips with hands-on experiences for the students such as washing clothes on a washboard or with a wringer washer, or writing with a quill and ink instead of a ballpoint pen.

That vision includes creating another museum space in the basement of the building. Currently, the basement is filled with vintage machinery of all sorts, once used by residents in their daily lives. Extending the display area would provide a more complete picture of the hard work and self-sufficiency of pioneer families. 

The completion of the Cushman Dam brought electricity to the Key Peninsula in 1927. Before that year, lighting in the hall was provided by large tanks of pressured gasoline in the basement, connected by tubing to sconces along the walls upstairs. “These were similar to Coleman lanterns, lit by a mantle,” said Paul Michaels, co-manager of the project. In 1927, the lighting changed to electricity, a much safer mode. 

Photographs, personal histories and meeting minutes were used to facilitate the return of the building to its original state. “The building was not completed by professionals, but by farmers and loggers in the area, volunteering their time in the interest of the community; we want to maintain that sense of the building,” said Michaels. “The front corner of the building was sitting on a round of Doug fir and rock — there was no foundation,” said Ken Wassum. 

Volunteers like Frank Shirley, Diane Jackman, Ken Wassum and many others have worked faithfully on the project, just as in times past when community members spent countless hours on the original building. Today’s volunteers are sometimes connected by family history in the community, like Jackman, who said her family members are pioneer descendants to the seventh generation. 

“I would ride over to this building on my bike as a kid,” she said.

Frank Shirley, 90, sometimes rows across Vaughn Bay from his home to join the work. 

Wolfe also credits the interest and goodwill of community contractors, providing the project with expertise in specialty areas. “They get excited about this one project.” He said the new grant will likely allow the group to complete the work in the hall. The original floors will be refinished, and the painting, wallpapering and rebuilding of the kitchen will be appropriate to the original structure, along with furniture and some landscaping. 

“Embracing restoration is an important piece of local history,” he said. The building will continue to have needs, and work will be ongoing, but it will function at least in a limited fashion by the end of the year, Wolfe said.

Editor's note: This article has been amended to correct a previous version that misattributed a quote from volunteer Joe Dervaes to the late Jerry Wolniewicz. We regret the error.