George Harrison Calvin, resident carver at the Kasilof Historical Society's museum, displays one of his ongoing pieces of artwork made of sheep horn.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
With the exception of the letters above the door that spell out "McLane Center," the tiny log cabin at Mile .5 of Kalifornsky Beach Road looks much like any other cabin in the Kasilof area from the outside. Once inside it becomes immediately clear that this cabin is quite different.
Stepping through the front door is like stepping backward in time, since the cabin which at one time served as a hospital, library and schoolhouse until Tustumena Elementary School was built in 1959 is being utilized as the Kasilof Historical Society's museum.
"We wanted to preserve the history of the Kasilof area," said Sunny Van Zyl, head of the museum.
She explained that the museum was created to serve as a repository for relics, artifacts, documents and other articles of historical significance from all of the various waves of people who have called the area, now known as Kasilof, their home.
"Native, Russian, homesteader, immigrant items we welcome them all," Van Zyl said.
Although the facility only opened in July, it already has numerous memorials to days long gone and is acquiring more every week as people learn about the facility.
There's a large dog sled, along with several other items that once were the property of Victor Holm, a native of Finland who sailed to Alaska.
"He built a cabin on the Kasilof River in the late 1890s, and for 50 years made his home and living here," Van Zyl said.
There are photos, records and numerous other items from fox farms owned by Perry Cole, Abe Erikson, Louis Nissen and others.
"Fox farming was a big industry here in the '20s and '30s, until importation of Russian furs knocked the price down," Van Zyl said.
There's a trunk of personal affects that belonged to Lucy and Clayton "Doc" Pollard, the latter of whom practiced dentistry on Kenai Peninsula residents many of whom often had to walk the beach or take a dory to seek his services.
"He was a roving early dentist who took his portable equipment by boat. He went to Homer and Seldovia and traveled all over," Van Zyl said.
On a wall hangs a telephone that's at least 70 years old and a "phone book," which is not only unusual in that it is only one page long with roughly 20 names on it, but the phone numbers aren't actually numbers, but rather a Morse Code-like system of three dots or dashes representing short and long rings.
"The phones rang in all the homes back then, but people could tell who was getting a call by the ring," Van Zyl said.
She said the system probably worked great in a community as small as Kasilof was back then, unless the person being called wasn't home. However, since everyone knew the sound of everyone else's ring, it was easy for someone else to pick it up.
"Someone might hear the ring for their neighbor, and know he's not home, so they would just answer it and say 'He's out fishing,' or whatever," Van Zyl said.
The museum also has a variety of old newspapers articles, magazine and books everything from popular subjects like the earthquake of 1964, to more hard-to-find subjects like the 1924 book by J.H. Tilden, "Constipation A New Reading on the Subject."
In addition to the menagerie of items and displays from the Kasilof of old, the museum also hosts a resident carver George Harrison Calvin who makes artwork, arrow heads, knives and belt buckles out of stones, bones, horns and antlers.
Thuough often hard at work, the 81-year-old admitted that his day often is split between carving and chewing the fat with museum patrons.
"It's probably 50 percent work and 50 percent storytelling. I enjoy talking to people and sharing the history of the area, and with so many old-timers disappearing, there's not many of us left to share stories of how it used to be," Calvin said.
His statement represents another point that Van Zyl said is a purpose of the museum enhancing public awareness and fostering an appreciation for the significance of historic items.
She said that all too often the elderly pass away and their personal possessions are thrown away or sold at garage sales or on e-Bay. But, beyond their financial value, she said these items hold sentimental value that is priceless to the deceased's neighbors, friends and family members who have dispersed out of state, or new residents to the community looking to learn about the area in which they now live.
"It's sad when our history gets lost like that," Van Zyl said.
Unlike most of the other museums on the peninsula, the Kasilof museum is open all winter, from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
"It's great that tourists can come and see this stuff in summer, but we wanted to be open in winter because this is really for the people that live here, the people of Kasilof," Van Zyl said.
The museum is free to the general public. Its funding comes from three primary sources: the $10 annual membership dues paid by Kasilof Historical Society members, the society's annual auction and an annual rummage sale.
"Also, area artists and craftspeople are invited to display their work at the cabin," Van Zyl said.
Anyone interested in donating historical items, displaying artwork or more information should call the museum at 262-0822.
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