In 1992, during a Kent Old-Timers meeting, Rae Reitan – a native of Kent and the City Historian – suggested that Kent have its own historical society. A committee was formed that began regular meetings in the city hall and a public campaign to collect artifacts and information about Kent and the surrounding area.
As the society grew additional space was required. During 1993, a space located at 209 W Meeker became the temporary home of the society and its museum collection for almost five years. In the meantime, the society leadership worked in an advisory role to the City of Kent as it sought for them a more permanent location.
Interest eventually settled on the historic Bereiter home, located across busy Smith Street from Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks Park. Built in 1908 by Emil Bereiter, the house provided over 3,500 sq. ft. of space for displays, offices and workrooms. An attic and carriage barn provided additional space for storage and display. The home, considered one of the grandest in Kent, was built of the American Foursquare (or Box House) style, with extensive interior woodwork and a grand portico. Bereiter had been an owner of the Covington Lumber Company and was mayor of Kent in 1912. Later occupants of the home include the Saito family, who were successful members of the active Japanese-American community before they were interned during World War II.
The house and outbuildings were purchased by the City in August of 1996. The City began extensive renovations in 1997 to support public access to the building. Construction also began of Stuart Nakamura’s major public art piece titled Another Place, Another Time. It honors the rich, local history of the Japanese-American community and the tragic impact of the internment during World War II.
The lot immediately behind the new museum was purchased in 1997, allowing for construction of a 20-car parking lot and a new entry off of East Temperance Street. The parking lot and landscaping were complete in 1999. The museum was then moved from the Meeker Street storefront to the Bereiter House. The partnership between the City and Society became firmly established, with the City owning the property and the Society committed to the museum’s regular operation.
The addition of the Veterans Blue Star Memorial By-Way Marker Rose Garden in September, 2006 provides the only memorial and community gathering place in the area to recognize all past, present and future veterans who serve or have served in America’s Armed Forces.
The Kent Historical Society continues to grow as a viable entity in the Kent community. We are very fortunate to gain new members and organizations every year. The City of Kent and the King County Landmarks and Heritage Commission have become appreciated partners in our success. However, it is the dedicated volunteers that continue to give their time and labor who keep our great museum open and functioning.