Peoria officials have been sifting through nearly 10,000 artifacts donated to the city’s historical museum so they can return them to their rightful owners.
So far, 7,000 pieces have found their homes, according to Sharon Roberson, Peoria assistant to the city manager.
“We probably have 1,500 to 2,000 left,” Roberson said. “There were a lot in there.”
The Peoria Arizona Historical Society’s museum closed in mid-2018 because of a dispute between the board members, said Kristina Perez, the city’s marketing and communications manager. Peoria owns the historical society’s building, so when the dispute was settled, the city was asked to find the items’ owners or legal heirs.
Those who believe they have items in the museum can reach out to Roberson, give her a description of the item or give her a photo, if available.
Copies of donation or loan documents will help expedite the process.
“If they happen to have a description of the item, that’s great,” Roberson said. “If they have the photographs, that’s even better. If they happen to have the original loan documents, that’s the best. We can work off the description. We can go through what’s left and home in on the things they’re describing.”
The deadline for parties to come forward with a claim for their items is 5 p.m. Thursday, May 20. Interested parties can call Roberson at 623-773-7572 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“After May 20, we will be pretty confident that everybody who has come forward came forward,” Roberson said. “We will find a way to preserve these items and preserve the history.
“We really want to save the historical character of Old Town and the rich stories of the people who built Peoria. We’re not exactly sure how. We are determined to save what remains in our care and find a way to display it. We may put it in other Peoria buildings or surrounding historic museums, existing city facilities or public art projects.”
Besides the dispute, Roberson said volunteers were unable to keep up the museum and society as well.
“A lot of small museums and historical societies across the country are maintained by aging volunteers,” Roberson said. “They’re no longer able to keep up the work. Younger volunteers are harder to find.”
Although it seems daunting, the project has been a joy for Roberson. She’s furthered her knowledge of the city’s roots, its residents and its industries.
“It’s really a shame that the museum closed,” Roberson said. “However, the nice part of it is we’re able to track down these original donors or their families and give them their items back.
“They’re so excited, and they tell us great stories. I have been able to reconnect war heroes with their Purple Heart medals and hear the stories of their heroism in the Korean War and World War II. I’ve heard stories about wood-burning stoves, and family members tell me about growing up in a farmhouse here in old Peoria.”
She has also heard stories about folks going to school on a mule or horse, tying them up outside during class.
“I grew up in Phoenix, so it was a little different,” she said. “Hearing and learning about the history of this area has been fun.”