Redmond Historical Society marks milestones amid many changes

Group celebrates 15 years of walking tours, which give glimpses into community’s colorful past.

Despite the changes to the city around it and within its own organization, the Redmond Historical Society is continuing to collect, preserve and share the community’s unique heritage.

The society marked its 15th year of offering historic Old Town Redmond walking tours this summer, and will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its founding next year. It also kicked off the first event of the six-part Saturday Speaker Series, the “crown jewel” of its programming, on Sept. 8.

The town was incorporated more than 100 years ago, and has been known for logging, agriculture, biking and of course, Microsoft. Today, the historical society is using technology to make the past more accessible, by archiving and digitizing photographs, documents, newspaper clippings and more, rebranding and updating materials and even developing a self-guided walking tour mobile app called “Steps in Time.”

It’s done all this despite changes to its leadership and location. The society had long leased a space in the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center, but had to relocate in March as the Lake Washington School District planned to remodel the facility for preschool programs.

It moved its offices and collections into an interim space in the Vision 5 Building, 8525 163rd Court NE #120, and changed its office hours to 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Wednesday.

Relationships with the Redmond business community helped them during the move. Robert Pantley and his daughter Angela Rozmyn of Natural & Built Environments LLC offered the office space, and Nelson Legacy Group donated storage. The society also has a strong partnership with the city of Redmond, including with Senior Planner Kimberly Dietz in the city’s historic preservation office.

Joe Townsend, the current president of the historical society, first joined the board in 2008. The 43-year Redmond resident said he joined the group because of his experience with nonprofits, and because he knew the founders well.

“The original members were people who had lived in Redmond for decades,” he said.

The society was formed in 1999 by a small of group of citizens passionate about local history. It was a time of tremendous growth in and around Redmond, “yet no one was documenting our heritage, some of which was disappearing,” according to the society’s website.

Redmond’s downtown core has experienced a lot of redevelopment in the past decade, and the group has been looking for ways to keep the history alive.

“New buildings are going up, old structures are coming down. The Connector Trail has a new section opening via the railroad trestle. Cleveland Street is becoming two way. The Downtown Park is nearing completion,” according to a 2017 historical society newsletter. “We need your help in documenting these changes to our city, as well as preserving our past.”

One of its first actions was to lobby for, and secure, city landmark status for 16 structures, which included former Redmond Mayor Bill Brown’s Saloon (now The Matador), Brown’s Garage (now HomeStreet Bank), Earl & Elise McWhirter Farm, Justice White House, Odd Fellows Hall (now Redmond’s Bar and Grill), Redmond City Park (now known as Anderson Park), Redmond School and Redmond State Bank (now Homegrown).

In 2002, local historian Tom Hitzroth and Historical Society co-founder Naomi Hardy developed a walking tour, which was an enhancement of one developed by Dorothy White Hanscom (daughter of Judge William White and Emma McRedmond White, who built and lived in the Justice White House) in 1976.

Since 2003, Hitzroth has led walking tours of Redmond’s historic district. Over the years, the tour has evolved from one hour to two, with the script changing as new information is discovered.

Some of the founders are still involved with the society, and its board is becoming more diverse. Townsend is set to retire after four years as president, but has high hopes for the future, including a potential museum and expanded tour program.

He said that Hitzroth, a lifelong Eastside resident and chair of the City of Redmond Landmark Commission, may lead historical or “haunted” tours at the Old Redmond Cemetery. Hitzroth is also continuing to work on identifying details of Redmond development from its earliest times to 1930, and is currently researching the historic site of the settlement of Melrose that preceded Redmond.

The first settlers in the Redmond area were Luke McRedmond (father of Emma McRedmond White) and Warren Perrigo. Arriving in the area in 1871, McRedmond took up a claim along the Sammamish River (about where Redmond Town Center is now), while Perrigo took up land just east of him (near the current location of Value Village, Townsend said).

The Perrigos built a house that could also be used as an inn, and named it Melrose House, after Perrigo’s hometown in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, McRedmond had started creating a village, originally named Salmonburg, then Melrose due to the popularity of Melrose House. When McRedmond became postmaster in 1882, he officially changed the name to Redmond.

Hitzroth will be featured in the Saturday Speaker Series, as he is set to explain land claims in Redmond and how settlers acquired them on Feb. 9.

Another presentation of particular local interest is on April 13. Tom Bauer, a former employee of T-D Feeds in Redmond, will talk about the history of the business.

“It operated off Cleveland Street for decades,” Townsend said. “Then it was torn down, and now it’s an apartment building.”

Townsend fears that other historic structures may be in danger, including the historic building where the society’s walking tours begin: the Hotel Redmond or Justice White House at 7529 Leary Way NE.

“With light rail coming, the Justice White House piece of property is going to become extremely valuable,” he said.

The Historical Society’s speaker series is presented on the second Saturday of the month, with three programs each in the fall and spring. Talks are held at 10:30 a.m. at the Redmond Senior Center, 8703 160th Ave. NE, and topics range from local, state and Pacific Northwest historical interest. There is a suggested $5 donation for nonmembers.

See for more.

2018-2019 Speaker Schedule

Sept. 8: “Diamonds in the Ether: Tuning In to Northwest Radio History” by Feliks Banel, a historian, broadcaster and filmmaker speaking courtesy of Humanities Washington.

Oct. 13: “The Sound and the Ferry: The Birth of Washington State Ferries” by historian Alan Stein. Sponsored by History Link.

Nov. 10: “Washington at War: The Evergreen State in World War I” by historian Lorraine McConaghy. Speaking courtesy of Humanities Washington.

Feb. 9, 2019: “Anatomy of a Land Claim: How Settlers Acquired Land in Redmond” by Tom Hitzroth, former chair of the King County Landmarks Commission and City of Redmond Landmark Commission.

March 9, 2019: “Nature Nearby – The Olmsted Landscape Legacy in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest” by Eliza Davidson, architect, arborist and landscape designer, principal of Arbutus Design LLC and advocacy chair for the National Association for Olmsted Parks.

April 13, 2019: “T-D Feeds: Thirty Years of Milling in Redmond” by Tom Bauer, T-D Feeds manager from 1967-1999.