History is written right on the outside walls of storied buildings in downtown Kent.
For all to see.
A group of volunteers from the Greater Kent Historical Society (GKHS) has brought that interpretive information to life in the form of plaques that were affixed to 13 sites throughout the downtown historic district last Friday.
The project, the brainchild of local historian, GKHS member and city Landmarks Commissioner Nancy Simpson, was two years in the making. The GKHS raised money to fund the project, with each plaque costing about $350 each. A volunteer group from the society gathered carefully researched, relevant information about each historical site for about a year.
“They look terrific. They did a good job, very thorough,” said Simpson, observing the plaque describing the long history of the First National Bank Building at the southwest corner of First Avenue South and Gowe Street. “I couldn’t be happier with the company that’s done this.”
About three years ago, Simpson approached the Kent Downtown Partnership and its executive director, Barbara Smith, about the idea of producing the historic plaques to various buildings. Smith, in turn, helped find a vendor that could create the plaques.
“There were a number of other hoops Nancy had to jump through, but true to her reputation, she stayed the course, and the program came to fruition today,” Smith said. “The KDP is so proud to be associated with this project and feels it adds a tremendous value to our downtown.
“We are proud of our history, and we love sharing it,” Smith added. “Working with other people, organizations, the city, it all makes for a positive way to get things done.”
Mike Burngasser, who works for Industry Sign & Graphics, the makers of the 1-foot-square plaques, was busy putting up the weather-coated, brush-aluminum signs at selected historic buildings last Friday.
The plaques bear a historical photo of the building, along with its own story – its origins, caretakers, ownership and operational changes and significance to Kent commerce and the greater community. Many of the buildings bestow a tale that stretches back to the late 1880s. Like the vintage Creamery Building on Meeker Street, between First and Second avenues south, that once housed the Carnation Milk Company. The cream-condensing plant rolled out its first can on Sept. 6, 1899. It soon expanded to include a tin can manufacturing facility, which turned out 50,000 cans a day.
There’s also the Bouldron Building in the heart of West Meeker Street. Named after a prominent Kent contractor, the art deco building was architectural significant and historical important as a sign of recovery from the Great Depression.
The Clark Livery Stables, at the northeast corner of Second Avenue and Gowe Street, was once the spot where horses were bought and sold, where buggy and saddle horses were ready at all times. Over the years, the spot became Midway Motors (1937-44), a supermarket, a jewelry store and banks of different names, among other occupants. DAWN (Domestic Abuse Women’s Network) owns and occupies it today.
Pedestrians, shoppers, even the curious visitor, can stroll along the sidewalks and capture the story behind each building.
“They can actually look at this and say, ‘Wow, this is what was on this corner, this building, and see what it really looked like,’ ” Simpson said. “There’s been so many changes. I mean, really, you look at any of these buildings … and (learn about the changes).”
Simpson, along with her husband Chuck, Eric Reiten and Tom Baines were among the GKHS members who made the project possible.
“It looks great,” Baines said. “It’s amazing how clear they (plaques) came out.”
Simpson hopes to add other historical buildings to the plaque party, budget and contributing companies willing.
The GKHS and KDP also would like to create a walking tour map of the plaques.