While many visitors to the 130-year-old Shannahan Cabin at the fairgrounds just want to browse, Monroe Historical Society Volunteer docents, Gail Dillaway (left) and Michael Mates are on hand to answer questions about the unique structure and its history. (Dan Bates/The Herald)

130-year-old cabin a draw at state fair

MONROE — Hang a left past the miniature golf and The Sunglass Guy, head into the shade across the way from the lumberjack show and step into a piece of Monroe’s history.

The Shannahan Cabin is open each day of the Evergreen State Fair, with history displays and volunteers from the Monroe Historical Society on hand to answer questions. The society’s Shannahan Cabin Hosts program is celebrating 40 years at the fair.

The cabin is tucked among the tall trees that border the fair’s Frontierland area. The small yard is fenced in and the cabin door stays open on fair days. Inside, posters, photographs and a display case line rough-hewn wooden walls that were crafted by a pioneer nearly 130 years ago.

The cabin was built by John Shannahan in 1887 on the west side of the Snoqualmie River south of Monroe. He and wife Elizabeth had eight children, five of whom were born in the cabin.

Over the decades, the cabin was rented to workers, abandoned for a while and moved by Blanche, one of the Shannahan kids, to her property in the Tualco Valley. It was moved in pieces on a wagon and then reassembled.

In 1966, the cabin was moved to the Evergreen State Fairgrounds. Once again, it was taken apart so it could be hauled away and then put back together. New cedar shakes were hand-cut by Charles Taylor, of Monroe, for the roof. He filled holes in the walls with dry moss.

“The cabin’s been moved several times like a giant Lego set,” said Michael Mates, a Monroe Historical Society member who has volunteered during the fair for the last five years.

Mates and fellow volunteer Gail Dillaway took the morning shift for the Shannahan Cabin Hosts on Monday. This is Dillaway’s third year volunteering.

The hosts don’t get too many questions, they said, but a few hundred people per day come through to read the exhibits and look at photos. On Sunday, volunteers counted 259 visitors. One of the most popular stops is a binder with copies of old yearbooks where people can look for themselves, their parents or their friends.

Each year, the historical society has a different focus for displays at the cabin. One year it featured information about one-room schoolhouses in the area. Another year there were old household tools and a quiz to see which ones people recognized. Among the tools were a butter separator and an egg scale.

This year’s exhibit is focused on the legacy of dairies in the area and a Carnation condensary that operated in Monroe a century ago producing condensed milk and shipping it on the railroad.

No matter the exhibit, the cabin itself offers a glimpse of the past, Mates and Dillaway said. The one-room home once housed five children and two adults. It was built from lumber that John Shannahan harvested and cut himself. It has weathered the Western Washington rain and the changing times.

Mates’ advice to anyone visiting the cabin is to “read everything and try to imagine yourself living 100 years ago.”

If the Shannahan Cabin isn’t enough history, there’s more at the Monroe Historical Museum, 207 E. Main. There, people can try washing clothes on a washboard and peck at the keys on a typewriter.

“I think one of the best parts of the cabin is the living history aspect,” Dillaway said. “People can come in here and see what it was like. I think a lot of that is lost nowadays, and being able to see and experience it is a big part of preserving history.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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