A miner's hat on display in the East Carbon Museum is more than 100 years old.
The East Carbon Museum doesn't look like much from the outside. Located on a quiet street in East Carbon, the old brick building was formerly an auto repair shop before being converted into a museum. On the inside things are still being adjusted and fixed to create a suitable environment for a museum. While it may not look like a must-see attraction from afar, the over 100 years of history inside the museum give visitors a chance to see pieces of history with old mining equipment from the area to mementos from East Carbon High before it closed down.
The roots of the museum, located at 127 East Whitmore in East Carbon, dates back many years but it started to become a reality as East Carbon High School was shutting down and many of the materials and the memories they possessed were being put into boxes to be taken elsewhere. Some in the community, including Museum Director and Historian Darma Lopez, felt that the materials and memories from the high school needed to stay in the area where they could be appreciated and remembered by all those who spent time there. So when she requested that the materials be kept around, it was the beginning steps to what has become a museum filled with materials from years past. Anything they could collect from the school, yearbooks, graduation pictures, sports uniforms and trophies, they did.
"We wanted to keep it (the materials) here because these are our memories," said Lopez, who grew up in the area.
But the collecting of materials didn't stop there. Once the word got out into the communities of East Carbon, Sunnyside and Columbia about the museum, many people volunteered their time to help unpack boxes with pieces of history and fix the building to give it the feel of a museum. Many people donated materials including old coal mining equipment, rescue equipment, photographs and much more. Because of the amount of materials at the museum, Lopez said they are in the process of getting more display cases.
"Things just started mushrooming from there," Lopez said.
The building was a nightmare when the city took it over to use for the museum, Lopez said. "I wondered how we could fix this place to turn it into a museum," she said.
But after a few years of hard work with volunteers and donations from the community, the East Carbon Museum opened in June 2009, with an official grand opening held on Aug. 4, 2009.
"It was really neat to see everything come together," said Leighann Martinez, museum curator.
With many boxes to go through and sort out all of the old materials, both Lopez and Martinez grew a greater appreciation for history and how life was like in the area before they were born and as they were growing up. With more admiration for the history of the area, Lopez said everyone from the volunteers to those donating materials to the museum are striving to make it a place that residents can be very proud of.
"It's hard to realize the significance of history," Lopez said noting at a younger age she had opportunities of putting memories together and didn't think she would ever be a part of a project like this. "But we're working very hard on making the museum the best it can be."
Even though she has spent many years in the area, Martinez said she is still learning more about the area and its history everyday.
"I am still learning things as they go along," Martinez said. "The museum is a piece of history from everybody in the area and every day I am learning something new."
There have been a few problems the museum has needed to deal with including the preservation of materials they have gathered. Because many of the materials on display at the museum were in boxes, some were not preserved correctly and were eventually lost, Lopez said.
Currently one of the main projects the museum is working on is a video series interviewing older residents in the community getting their history, life stories and their memories from their time spent in the area. There is a push to get as many people involved with the project because they are losing many in the older population, Lopez said.
"We want to preserve the memories, history of what it was like when they were here, where they were from, their nationality and more," Lopez said. "We are trying to show people what the area was like, what was here and the general history of the area through the project."
The museum is also looking at utilizing the basement area which is not currently being used. A possible attraction geared towards children is one of the ideas that is being looked at, Lopez said.
Another issue the museum is looking to fix is the promotion and letting people know where the museum is located. Lopez said they are looking to work with the Utah Department of Transportation to get a sign out on the highway near the Highway 6 and Highway 123 junction letting people know that there is a museum in the area.
The hard work in getting the museum up and running today is a reflection of the hard work from East Carbon City, volunteers and the community, Lopez said.
"It's fantastic to know that people can come together to make something like this happen," Lopez said. "People in the community are amazed that we even have a museum here and seeing their reactions is one of the best things about working here."
While the museum currently has a lot of history on display, Lopez and Martinez said they are looking to gather as much history of the area to display at the museum so everyone can enjoy and learn more about the early times in East Carbon, Sunnyside and Columbia.
"It all takes time," Martinez said in making the museum come together. "We will be continuing to collect as much history as we can for the area and the people to enjoy."
The East Carbon Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. and is closed on Sundays and holidays. For more information, call the museum at (435) 888-0262.