Gateway: News

‘It was the community’s place’: Historical society aims to bring Vaughn Library back to life

It takes more than squinting to see what the historic Vaughn Library used to be.

Located near Vaughn Bay and Vaughn Elementary School, the old relic of a building has faded green paint, dated windows, an empty tower and a corner of the building shows signs from when a car crashed into the side. The basement needed new doors and is filled wall to wall with old machines, tools and random finds such as a creepy doll that sits on a wood workbench. But passion fuels imagination and the Key Peninsula Historical Society has that passion.

“I have wanted to restore this place for several years,” said Judy Mills, president of the historical society. “This is the last community and dance hall in the area.”

Mills and the society’s board members, including Paul Michaels, have a vision for the building.

“We want to make it usable again,” Michaels said. “We can use it to place some of our larger artifacts, store items, we want to have events and more.”

The Vaughn Library building was placed on the Pierce County Historical Register on Oct. 31 after a unanimous vote from the Pierce County Council. Michaels said the group is hoping the building will also be given a historical status from the state in March.

The Key Peninsula Historical Society has been volunteering man hours and has put sweat equity into the building to make it seem new again.

“No one has been paid,” Mills said. “We are doing all the work.”


Mills said the original setting for the building was an open-air dance floor built by the community for Independence Day, 1889. The Van Slyke family, which homesteaded most of the land near Vaughn Bay, donated land and provided lumber from his mill.

“A year earlier, Vaughn’s men had organized a horticultural society and purposefully prevented women from joining,” according to the historical society’s website. “So the women decided to establish a library association and they excluded the men in return. The library hall was built in 1894 by adding walls and a roof to the dance floor.”

The closed-in hall was built along with a tower to place a flagpole. The hall was used for church, town meetings, Rotary meetings, Boy Scouts, clubs, weddings, school dances and more. The library also stored books in the hall for the community to share.

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The Vaughn Library Hall, built in 1893 as a community gathering place, now belongs to the Key Peninsula Historical Society, and was just approved for placement on the county’s Register of Historic Places. Key Peninsula Historical Society Courtesy

“It was the community’s place,” Michaels said. “Back then most people didn’t have the room to host friends for parties, so they would use the community hall.”

In 1910 the community expanded the back of the building to accommodate a small stage. Local schools held student plays and the stage was a pulpit for town leaders. In 1926 a small kitchen was added to the left side of the building and a front room was added on to be the official spot for the library. The library association ladies managed the front room, which was separated from the hall by a wall and had its own entrance.

In 1958 the hall was placed for sale and was bought by Harmon Van Slyke. Van Slyke turned the historic building into a private residence.

A machinist, Van Slyke dug out a large basement as a place to store his large machines and tools for his work. He built more walls on the inside of the hall to create rooms and took out the original stage. He lowered the ceiling as well and he removed some of the original windows of the hall to make room for larger windows. After Van Slyke passed away, his grandson, Jerry Wolniewicz, lived in the home for five years. After Wolniewicz death, Donna Docken, Jerry’s sister, decided to donate the building to the Key Peninsula Historical Society.


The plans for renovation started in the summer of 2015 when talks about restoration began with Docken and Mills. By 2016 the organization created official plans for preservation and acquired the building in October 2016.

“It’s been a lot of work,” Mills said. “There was a lot of stuff that had to be redone.”

Fortunately the group did not have to rebuild the original structure of the hall because Van Slyke never changed any of the outside walls or main rooms. And thanks to a roof replacement by Wolniewicz, the building’s integrity was still intact.

Besides placing a lot of sweat equity into the building, Michaels and other board members have been involved in placing the building on historical registers, which will make it available for building and restoration grants.

“We are hoping for a state-level recognition to get some grants,” Michaels said. “It would be used for all the new updates. We really want to make this place historically accurate.”

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Paul Michaels, a member of the Key Peninsula Historical Society board is glad to help in the restoration of the Vaughn Library Hall. David Montesino

The group has run into some challenges with the project, such as a large community of bats that lived in the ceiling of the building, the need to remove parts of the floor which obtained asbestos, and trying to find the original placement of the windows.

But Mills said they had some luck, too. A local Boy Scout helped clear the bushes and shrubs away from the building, and some of the original wood flooring will be restored and placed in areas to patch up spots. The group has also placed bids to rebuild a new stage.

And perhaps the biggest boon came when they found a large sum of old books in the library room.

“All of these were found in the front room,” Michaels said. “Some may be from the library and others from Van Slyke.”

The old books give the library room a musky scent, but Mills said she hopes to freshen up the area and place the books in glass casings to resemble the original library.

Overall, the general feeling is that the group is excited to bring the hall back to life and to make it a functioning space for the community again. Mills is toying with the idea of holding open houses during renovation, which may take another two years, to let the community watch the progress.

“This is the last original community hall on the KP,” Mills said. “I am excited to bring it back.”

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie