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A link to the North Fork's past

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Photo by Tamie Meck The North Fork Historical Society Museum in Paonia includes the two-room Bowie Schoolhouse and the former Parks family home. The Historical Society will host its annual Ice Cream Social from 1-4 p.m. Monday, July 4. At 1 p.m., Paonia a

Want to know where all of the rural schoolhouses were once located in the North Fork area? Maybe you'd like to learn more about the history of the area's world-famous fruit, or its rich coal mining heritage. Perhaps you just want to know how the town came to be.

You're sure to find something of interest at the Paonia Museum.

The facility consists of two separate history-packed buildings, which are historical in their own right. Constructed in 1906 at Midway, the former Parks home was donated by Kenneth Parks in 1998, with the understanding that it would be moved. The community came together to make it happen, said museum curator Judy Livingston. "I love it as a house and I love it as a museum."

Livingston herself has a connection to Paonia's past. Her grandfather arrived in a covered wagon in 1910 and her mother, Mayme Abseck, was one of his eight children, all of whom graduated from school in Paonia. She has been active with the museum since the 1990s when it was located in the basement below what is now Ollie's Ice Cream and run by Wallace "Wally" Eubanks. "He was the one who got me involved in all of this," said Livingston. "He was a really brilliant historian."

Step inside the Parks House and take a trip back in time. Among the more noticeable items: a telephone switchboard taken from the Co-Op Phone Company office at Third and Grand, and a cash register from the Paonia Mercantile Building.

Other unique items include a carved violin owned by Martha Ann Stucker, and a framed piece of intricately woven hair art from the family of Shirley Lund. Hair was at one point in the 1800s a favorite craft medium. "I think it's amazing," said Livingston. Several wool quilts include one made of wool gathered from the fences of the Campbell ranch which stands out as one of the more unique items. Its maker gathered, carded and spun the yarn and wove the material.

Some more recent items include a large number of miniature horseshoe nail sculptures, donated by the daughter of the late Paonia surveyor, Seaborn King. He began making them for his friends around the 1970s or 1980s, said Livingston. His wife asked if he'd make two of everything so they could have one for their collection.

Among the books written by Wilson Rockwell (1910-2007) is "Coal Mining of the North Fork Valley." It's a good source of information, said Livingston.

That's just a sample of the hundreds of items in the Parks House. The museum is also working on a special exhibit in celebration of next week's 70th annual Cherry Days celebration. On July 4 the museum will host its annual Ice Cream Social from 1-4 p.m. The event is a longstanding Cherry Days tradition and includes root beer floats. "It's a nice place to come and get away from the hubbub of the park," said Livingston.

At 1 p.m., Laura Lee Yates will read from her newly published book, "Bound for the Western Sea." The book is a historical accounting of the Lewis & Clark expedition, as told by Meriwether Lewis' Newfoundland dog, Seaman.

There's more, much, much more, to enjoy in the Bowie Schoolhouse. Built in 1907 and moved to the site in 1976, the two-room structure includes all original desks and fixtures, class photos and schoolbooks. Former Bowie schoolteacher Bonnie Small Hutchins (1917-2004) wrote a detailed history of the school, one of many rural schoolhouses shown on a map detailing the location of all the schoolhouses of the area.

The museum's collections and archives continue to grow. Within the last month, a man staying at the Bross Hotel donated a small strong box filled with old books and records from local businesses including a wallet-sized ledger book from the long-closed Fruit Exchange Bank.

"I am so happy when people think about sharing these things," she said.

The museum is also putting together an exhibit of the area's rich coal mining history. Many coal mining-related items, including photos, documents and tools, are already a part of the current collection. A quilt made by Trish Tuin, whose mother was a Bowie, includes 20 blocks, each representing a mine that was once operating in the area.

Shortly after starting the project, the museum serendipitously received several bound volumes of coal mining payroll logs from "The Juanita Coal & Coke Co." They had been kept for several years in a storage unit, said Livingston. Among the pages are detailed payroll records that include the miners' names and pay levels, and the minutiae of their deductions, like rent and money spent at the company store.

"It's so fascinating to see all the names," she said after revealing just one page of records. Other documents accompanying the volumes include business correspondence and mine-related blueprints.

Asked if the museum is seeking any specific items, Livingston said they very much want personal histories, both written and oral, and no subject is too trivial.

The Paonia Historical Society is always looking for new members. The museum is open from 1-4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday through Labor Day. With no heat source, they close for the winter, but appointments are available, said Livingston. Call 527-3970 for more information.

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