Century-old apple trees in the orchard at Mary Olson Farm. Photo by Rachael McAlister, White River Valley Museum.

Century-old apple trees in the orchard at Mary Olson Farm. Photo by Rachael McAlister, White River Valley Museum.

SoCoCulture is a coalition of arts, heritage and botanical organizations throughout South King County, all working together to connect King County residents to the cultural vitality of the area. In this guest post, Barbara McMichael shares details on a brand new program created by a group of South King County historical organizations:

Ask the executive director of any local historical house museum and they’ll tell you: if they had a nickel for every time they met somebody who said, “I’ve always meant to check that place out,” they’d never have to apply to 4Culture for Sustained Support funding again. Drawing new visitors into these beautiful old landmark residences means that the nonprofit organizations running them have to go beyond hosting the traditional tours and teas.

Over the next few months, three historical sites are piloting a new initiative that was proposed by SoCoCulture and quickly grew into a generous collaboration among several cultural organizations in South King County. Bookmarks & Landmarks aims to bring readers to the following sites by hosting events that discuss books dealing with some of the themes that each site strives to interpret.

First up, the Greater Kent Historical Society will welcome participants to Bereiter House on May 21 for a discussion of The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. This bestseller celebrates the 1936 U.S. men’s Olympic eight-oar rowing team comprised of University of Washington students who came from the working class. Guest speakers will include rowing historians, current rowing enthusiasts, and a special appearance by local Olympic rowing champion Al Rossi, who brought home Olympic Bronze in 1952.

On June 18, the historic Mary Olson Farm in Auburn will host a program centered on the novel The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. The book tells the story of a reclusive Washington apple grower at the beginning of the 20th century – a perfect fit for the Mary Olson Farm, which has been restored to reflect its roots as a subsistence farm from that same era, and features a century-old orchard containing many heirloom apple varieties.

And on July 16, just outside of Auburn, the landmarked Neely Mansion will focus on Looking Like the Enemy, a memoir written by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald about her removal from Vashon Island during World War II and incarceration in a Japanese American internment camp, even though she was an American citizen. The author and other local members of the Japanese American community will participate on a panel to recount their experiences from that time. In the 1930s, the Neely Mansion was home to Japanese American farmers who built a traditional bathhouse on the grounds. Over the intervening decades, the structure had fallen into disrepair, but recently the bathhouse was recognized as a King County landmark, and its restoration is being completed this spring.

Pre-registration is required to take part in any or all of these Bookmarks & Landmarks programs, but participation is free, thanks to the generous sponsorship of 4Culture, the King County Library System, Humanities Washington, and realtors Kathi Jones (John L. Scott) and Vickie Chynoweth (Keller Williams).