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The wood of our roots

By JANET COOK

News staff writer

April 26

The dream of a museum honoring the history of Hood River Valley’s fruit industry is inching closer to reality this week.

The Fruit Foundation, a non-profit organization that has been working for nearly a year to establish a fruit heritage museum, is setting up a “mini-museum” in a section of the former Diamond cold storage building in Pine Grove. The foundation plans to have the museum open to the public by early May.

A picker’s cabin dating to the 1930s was disassembled last week and moved from its location on Fred Dethman’s property on Avalon Drive. The cabin is being put back together inside the Diamond building and will be one of the showcase pieces of the museum. The cabin was used by pickers who worked in Dethman’s parents’ pear and apple orchards in the first half of last century.

Other items to be on exhibit include a circa-1912 tractor and a sprayer that was initially horse-drawn. A box-lidder used to build fruit shipping boxes also will be featured, as well as an apple washer, an orchard ladder and a smudge pot. Additional small artifacts will also be part of the display.

Interpretive panels will tell visitors about these items, as well as offer a brief general history of the fruit industry in the valley.

“We really want people to know that this is not the whole thing,” said Connie Nice, executive director of the Fruit Foundation and coordinator of the Hood River County Historical Museum.

The Fruit Foundation is a separate entity from the county museum, but the museum will own all of the artifacts in the fruit heritage museum.

The Fruit Foundation, which has been working methodically toward its long-term goal of establishing a museum in one of the large cold storage areas of the former Diamond building, didn’t anticipate having anything on display until its planned opening in 2007.

But when the Mt. Hood Railroad announced plans recently to stop some of its excursion trains this summer at the Diamond building for tours of The Fruit Company, a gourmet fruit gift basket business owned by third-generation orchardist brothers Scott and Addison Webster, the foundation decided to put together a small exhibit to give the public a preview of what it has in store.

“I’m really excited about this new exhibit opening as I think it will allow the community to get just a little taste of the potential of the future museum,” Nice said. The foundation is calling this initial exhibit “Remembering Our Roots.” That title may remain when the larger museum opens, or it could change, Nice said.

An emergency fundraising effort carried out by Fruit Foundation board members Kent Lambert and Dave Burkhardt netted enough money (donated by several local orchardists and packing houses) for the foundation to hire a professional museum design team to work up plans for the “Remembering Our Roots” exhibit that will carry over to the main museum when the time comes.

Nice said she and the foundation were “very pleased” with the plans by renowned Portland firm 1 + 2 Design.

“1 + 2 Design has designed some of the leading museums in the Pacific Northwest in the last few years,” she said. “Their work is recognized as being highly professional and exciting.”

The historic Diamond building, constructed in stages beginning in the 1930s, is now owned by the Websters, who have offered to donate space in the enormous building, which totals 160,000 square feet, to The Fruit Foundation for the museum.

Although the stepped-up plans put The Fruit Foundation in a time crunch, Nice thinks it will be worth the effort.

“Sometimes when the doors open, you have to take the opportunity to step through them,” she said. “While the Fruit Foundation anticipates 2007 as the opening for the large museum, we’re thrilled about this mini-exhibit and what it’s going to mean for the fruit industry of the Hood River Valley.”

The foundation will continue collecting historic items and doing fundraising in the community as well as through grants.

A community fundraiser gala is currently being planned for late fall.

The mini-museum will have its first tour on Wednesday, even though work is still being done on getting the exhibit finalized.

“An 8th grade class from Bellevue, Wash., called and they wanted to see the exhibit,” Nice said. “They’ve never been to an orchard before. It’s pretty exciting.”

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A Web site is scheduled to be online soon at www.thefruitfoundation.org, where information about museum hours, scheduling tours and the future museum will be available.

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