Franklin County Historical Society & Museum buys land to expand

Today is a historic one for members of the Franklin County Historical Society & Museum in Pasco.

Rick Venable, president of the society, and Paul Whitemarsh, vice president, expect to sign the closing papers on three lots on Bonneville Street east of the museum.

"It's always been in the minds of older members to expand, and over the years they discussed lots of different options about how to do it," Venable said.

The historical society is buying the property from Cam Uhling and Sam Kee of West Richland for $175,000, thanks to generous bequests this year from the estates of Hank and Alice Tessitore, Elaine Rasmussen and Pat Roach.

"We had some money set aside for expansion and were already looking into grants," said Sherel Webb, museum administrator.

The houses on the lots -- 419, 421 and 425 W. Bonneville St. -- will be demolished and the lots covered, likely with rock, to keep dirt from blowing while museum members go into fundraising mode to increase their building fund.

The current museum -- a 102-year-old Carnegie Library -- is leased by the society from Franklin County for a nominal fee.

The original museum was built in 1910 as part of industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie's worldwide library construction program. A new library was built in 1962, and the historical society later was offered the old building for a museum. It opened in 1983.

"That building is really limited in space. We have one storage room downstairs and most of our displays on the first floor. Lots of vintage clothing is actually stored in a room in the Salvation Army building across the street, and we have to pay for that. With an expansion we'd be able to have all our stuff on site," Venable said.

Webb said the museum was landlocked with no place to expand.

"We hated the thought of leaving the building but need more storage, more office space," Webb said.

Earlier this year, the society contacted the owners of the neighboring houses, found them interested in selling and started negotiations.

"It's been a very long, complicated process. We still have a long road ahead but it's exciting," Webb said.

The board plans to meet soon with Devi Tate of Tate Architects & Associates of Pasco to discuss possible building designs.

In the meantime, Venable said they welcome ideas for the building.

"It'll be the main topic for the annual membership meeting in September," he said.

The meeting will be Sept. 22 at the museum. Go to the website, franklincountyhistoricalsociety.org, for updates.

"At this point, our future is wide open. We'd like the addition to be more than storage and exhibit space but also a gathering place for people in downtown Pasco," Webb said.

The existing meeting room downstairs can hold about 80 people.

"We want to be able to accommodate bigger crowds and events," she said.

Ideally the new building will be attached to the existing museum so that the current museum staff -- three part-time employees and lots of volunteers -- can oversee it.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com