Showing a history of rural Douglas County

May 20, 2019

From its trajectory as Native American habitat to the World’s prune capital to a railroad and logging area, the Pioneer & Indian Museum in Canyonville will give its visitors a history lesson of Douglas County’s South Umpqua Valley.

Most of the exhibits have been donated by community members and businesses, the museum is curated by Donna Witt while Susan Waddle does a host of other things to keep the museum going.

“I don’t have a title, but I’m a grunt,” Waddle said. “I do what’s needed when it’s needed.”

South Umpqua Historical Society was organized in 1969 with the goal of building a museum, and in 1983 an acre of land was donated. The M.A. Hanna Company donated two buildings to house exhibits, which were built in the early ’90s and in 1993, after 24 years of planning, the museum opened its doors.

Now, 26 years later, community members still find records about family members. People can look at marriage records in the Justice Building, and ledgers of the Riddle Hotel and several Canyonville stores can be found inside the museum.

“My great grandfather is in there,” Waddle said while showing the Riddle Hotel ledger. “It’s neat to see his signature in his own handwriting in there.”

Finding out about her family’s history is what got Waddle interested in the museum in the first place.

“My family passed and I didn’t have much history, so I came here,” she said. “I did find out quite a bit about my family.”

Waddle met Virginia Proctor, who edited the book and took care of day-to-day operations — much like the “grunt” work Waddle does. Waddle was asked to help out, which she did in a small capacity because she had just gone back to school to learn about computers.

However, when Proctor passed away suddenly in 2000, Waddle took over and she has been a “grunt” at the museum for 21 years.

On a morning in late March, Waddle could tell stories about nearly every item in the museum. She talked about how the instructional materials in the school worked, how a table on display had once rolled off a wagon while the Riddle family came across the Plains, and how a Florence Sewing Machine built in Massachusetts in the 1860s was used during a 2018 quilt show.

The latest additions to the museum were donations of a wheelwright and blacksmith tools by Jim and Marilyn Fosback, who sometimes host wagon wheel construction demonstrations when tours come in.

A blacksmith exhibit was also opened recently, and the museum has old livestock brands branded into a wooden board, which Waddle hopes will expand as more of the historic cattle brands are being found.

Pioneer-Indian Museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. every Wednesday through Sunday from February to November. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

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