History of the Shafer Museum

“No history of the Museum can begin without the story of Guy Waring or end without a story of community volunteers.” – Barbara Shafer Duffy, daughter of museum founder Simon Shafer

Guy Waring

Guy Waring was the founding father of Winthrop, a visionary for the town, and a man regarded as aloof.

Waring grew up in New England and graduated cum laude from Harvard University. He arrived with his wife and three stepchildren in September of 1882 to establish a trading post for the miners and homesteaders in the Methow Valley. The family lived in the back of the store for two years until it was destroyed by fire. They departed for the East but returned to Winthrop in 1897. Helen was hesitant about returning because of the primitive conditions, so Guy promised her a grander home.

He had a hand-hewn log home built on a bench of land above the confluence of the Methow and Chewuch Rivers and the growing town. The house was ostentatious for the time, and locals called it the “Waring Castle”. It served as their home until 1916. Most of Waring’s visionary, but not well-funded projects failed and they again left town. In the mid-1920s, the Episcopal Church purchased the building.

More than twenty years later, local merchant Simon William Shafer had other plans for the Castle. In the fall of 1919, Simon and Joyce Shafer bought cattle and farm property in Winthrop with plans to move the following spring. Unfortunately, the winter of 1919-20 was particularly rough, and with a corresponding drop in stock prices, the Shafer family promptly lost their original investment.

Nevertheless, as happens to so many who visit this picturesque valley, they were already smitten with the Methow and determined to make it their home. Simon took work as a hired hand for a local farm. With their three young children, they settled into life in the Methow. Shafer was industrious and hard working and saved enough money to buy ownership in the Winthrop Meat Market, and here is where the story of the Shafer Museum starts to take shape.

Simon’s store quickly grew into a general merchandise store. Renamed the Shafer Store, it sold everything from thread to plowshares. Famous for bartering, Simon rode out the Great Depression by trading merchandise for produce, livestock and heirlooms. Bit by bit, he collected a trove of tools and treasures from early Methow settlers’ lives. In 1943, Simon saw the perfect opportunity to preserve an important piece of Methow Valley history: he purchased what was once the Waring Castle as a place to house and share his growing collection. In 1948, the Shafer Museum opened to the public.

Simon & Joyce Shafer, 1930s

Waring Castle, 1920s

When asked his reason for establishing the museum, Simon Shafer said he wanted to “preserve the implements and articles used by the pioneers in the building of America.” However, family lore has it that when Simon’s collection became too large to be housed in the store any longer and began to “clutter up my home,” Joyce put her foot down and demanded that he find somewhere else to store his treasures. There is no doubt some truth to both narratives, but regardless, out of Simon’s passion for collecting pioneer artifacts and a willingness to share them with the public, the Shafer Museum was born.

For almost thirty years, the Shafer Family, with the help of live-in caretakers, kept the museum open and added buildings and items for display. When asked what he would like for Christmas or his birthday, Simon would say “a stage coach” or “a Model T Ford” or whatever item he wanted for his collection. As a result, family and friends gave him things suitable for the Museum. A shed was built in the early 1950s to house some of the larger items, and soon thereafter, a pioneer-era building and settler’s log cabin were added, in what would be the beginnings of the “Shafer Museum Village.” However, the centerpiece was and always has been the “ostentatious” Waring Castle overlooking the town of Winthrop.

1985 Museum Site Plan

Following the deaths of Simon and Joyce, the three Shafer children, Barbara, Bill and Alan, and in later years the Shafer grandchildren, operated the Museum and continued Simon’s passion for the Methow artifacts.

However, with a strong belief that the museum should be accessible to all and available by donation only, it became increasingly difficult and expensive for the family alone to keep the Museum presentable. In 1976 Barbara, Bill and Alan donated the Shafer Historical Museum and all its contents to the Okanogan County Historical Society. At the same time, a local support group known as the “Shafer Museum Associates” organized to operate the museum on behalf of the historical society.

With support from many local organizations, the volunteers not only operated the Museum but undertook improvements. Done completely by donations and volunteer hours, the Shafer Museum Associates significantly added to the Museum’s collection and village.

From 1976 through the 1980s, pioneer cabins and structures were donated to the Museum and moved onto the museum grounds. An old Rendezvous cattle cabin was converted into a 1900s print shop with original equipment donated by the Methow Valley News. A pioneer cabin/post office from Mazama was torn down and rebuilt on the grounds to replicate an assay office. A settler’s cabin was donated and turned into an old school house. A doctor’s office was constructed with the donation of equipment from local old-time Methow doctors. A front office building was constructed to replicate a general merchandise store. To enhance and add to a growing amount of mining artifacts, a huge project was undertaken by volunteers and the Forest Service in the 1990s to complete a mining exhibit on the grounds of the Museum, complete with original equipment from historical Methow Valley mines.

Newspaper building, settler cabin, and farm equipment at the Shafer Museum

By the early 2000s, a fresh group of volunteers, now referred to as the Board of Directors, took over the operation of the Shafer Museum. Under this energetic and ever-changing group, the Shafer Museum took on its current form.

An on-going photo recovery project was initiated, improvements to buildings and grounds were completed, signs were added to exhibits on the Museum grounds, and the grounds expanded to include the vacant lot across the road. An old time barn was constructed, complete with original wood siding from another Methow Valley homestead barn. In addition, old outbuildings filled with pioneer tools and equipment have been procured, moved and added to the new Museum lot across the road, including antique tractors and older pioneer farming equipment.

In 2020, the Shafer Historical Museum Board and new Director embarked on new initiatives to make history more relevant and accessible to the our community. These strategic initiatives can be found on the About page, as the museum moves forward while preserving the past.