At their annual meeting March 19, the Key Peninsula Historical Society voted to accept donation and undertake preservation of the last remaining historic community meeting hall on the KP.
Built more than a century ago, the old Vaughn Library Hall has antiquated wiring and plumbing. Other issues make it unsuitable for habitation without major renovation.
“They [the owners] wanted to get it on the historical registry,” historical society President Judy Mills said. “It was too overwhelming for a family. Their family has deep roots in the community. They didn’t want to see it torn down. They felt it had historic value and should be saved.”
The last resident of the home was Gerald (Jerry) Wolnewiecz, the son of Helen Van Slyke Wolnewiecz, who died in 2007. After Jerry’s death in 2012, the home went to his sister, Donna Docken. The Docken family is donating the former library to the historical society.
Early pioneers Alfred and Mary Jeanette Van Slyke left Kansas in 1887. They settled on the north shore of Vaughn Bay in the back of a two-room building built by John Critchfield, and became the first family to call Vaughn a permanent home.
The front room served as a store and post office. Alfred became Vaughn’s second postmaster, a position he held for 10 years. He built a water-powered sawmill and partnered in the mill and store with his friend, Henry Coblentz, who followed the Van Slykes from Kansas with his family a few months later.
The Van Slykes donated land for a dance floor in 1889. Young men from the community built the structure for a Fourth of July celebration. Decorated with branches and ribbon bows, they dubbed it “The Bowery.”
Local women formed the Vaughn Bay Public Library Association in 1891. Books were stored in one corner of the post office. It became evident they needed a real library to house the volumes. Van Slyke donated enough land to add library space, and walls and a roof were added in 1893 to turn the building into a community center.
The library hall became the gathering place for every local community activity: ice cream socials, dances, high school plays, graduations ceremonies, Vaughn Garden Club meetings, Boy Scouts and church services.
Meetings for the ladies were always scheduled for times coinciding with full moons so people could see to walk or row boats across the bay for evening events. Films were shown from 1930 into the 1940s.
The Ladies Aid Guild made quilts to raise money for a church bell. During the depression, Elsie Olson ran a government program at the hall that provided surplus cotton batting for women to make mattresses for their families.
During World War II, women gathered at the hall to make and roll bandages and create other necessities for the war effort. After the war, they continued to make quilts for low-income families. Health clinics were also held there.
Harmon Van Slyke, Sr., bought the property in 1958 for $500 and turned it into a family residence. The money from the sale was used for a library at the Key Peninsula Civic Center, formerly Vaughn Union High School and then Vaughn Elementary.
The Vaughn Library Hall has remained in private hands, passed down from generation to generation since that time.
“The state will help us determine what we need to do to bring it up to standards,” Mills said. “We have nice support from the community.”
An official appraisal is still needed. Once completed, the historical society can go through the process of obtaining ownership. Then the real work can begin.
For more information, call Key Peninsula Historical Museum at 888-3246.