Yelm Prairie Historical Museum Seeks Volunteers to Keep its Doors Open

By Daniel Warn / dan@yelmonline.com
Posted 6/15/21

The Yelm Prairie Historical Museum is a time capsule to a simpler time, but that capsule could have an expiration date if folks don’t do something to support it.

The museum on Third Street …

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Yelm Prairie Historical Museum Seeks Volunteers to Keep its Doors Open

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The Yelm Prairie Historical Museum is a time capsule to a simpler time, but that capsule could have an expiration date if folks don’t do something to support it.

The museum on Third Street reopened on June 4 after a COVID-19-related closure, but its staff wondered whether to open it at all, at least not yet. That’s because the city is thinking about giving the museum a new space after it opens a new community development center, but that project is just in its infancy, said museum volunteer Gene Coulter.

“We almost closed the museum, at least until we relocated, but we decided that would hurt us more than help us, so we decided to open with reduced hours,” Coulter said.

The Yelm Prairie Historical Museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, just half of its typical hours.

“Now we just pull four-hour shifts twice a week trying to keep it open,” Coulter said of the museum’s volunteer labor force. “We need people to come help us staff it that are interested in Yelm’s history. People who have been here and know about Yelm. People who can answer questions and there are a lot of questions.”

The museum boasts mannequins in period dress, a vintage wagon, models of prairie pioneers, old typewriters or cash registers and more.

“Just about anything is in the museum,” Coulter said. “Different articles, artifacts, pictures. … Basically, it’s the history of Yelm.”

He said preserving how Yelm used to be is important, but just how important it is depends entirely on the person. Some people just aren’t interested in the past and only want to crowd out the future.

“Some people think (preserving history) is great,” Coulter said. “Some people aren’t concerned. Thankfully, there are some people that are concerned and this is why we have (the museum). Hopefully it will get bigger, but right now it’s kind of crowded in here.”

He said he doesn’t have a favorite part of the museum.



“It’s all interesting,” Coulter said. “I’ve been here so long that you recognize a lot of things. … I moved here when I was 7 years old in 1946.”

Coulter worked for Harold Wolf, in Wolf’s store that was housed in the still-standing Wolf Building on First Street and Yelm Avenue. There is a wall-sized photo depicting the grocery and dry-good general store in the museum. And Coulter lit up as he spoke about his former boss.

“The Wolfs were the town,” Coulter said. “They supported everyone, had our backs. There was no bank in town. Wolf was the bank. He had a credit system … and people would pay monthly for it.”

He said the Yelm that stands today is nearly unrecognizable now, save for old buildings like the Wolf’s.

“Yelm has changed about 95 percent,” he said. “Some for the good and some for the bad.”

He said the rapid growth of the area can be considered a bad thing from the perspective of a person that’s been in town for as long as he has.

“Anytime you have growth at this rate, it’s not good for the community, I think,” Coulter said. “People that have lived here for this long aren’t used to it. It gets too busy, too crowded. And too many problems come with it.”

As he spoke, Coulter made it clear that he longed for a different, simpler and less crowded time — for the Yelm that he built a house in, the Yelm that the museum depicts with vivid clarity.

“(Yelm had) about 380 people,” he said. “No paved roads except 507 and 510. Everybody knew everybody. If somebody met someone in the store and didn’t know them, they were either new or visiting. One of the two. That’s the truth. It’s the way it was, a lot less confusing.”

The Yelm Prairie Historical Museum is sponsored by the city of Yelm and was founded in 2008. To get involved, call 360-458-4114 during the museum’s business hours.

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