Umatilla County Historical Society raises over $60,000 to Restore Signal House

Pendleton, Oregon: ​The Umatilla County Historical Society raised over $60,000 to remodel the Signal House for an award-winning World War II collection display. In the process, they provide a model for all other organizations to follow when raising money for a new project.

In 2016, the board of directors of the Umatilla County Historical Society (UCHS) established that the “Signal House” building was underutilized. They recognized the building’s potential as an additional space to display the museum’s collection. From historic maps, the signal house can be dated as early as 1914, and once may have been the administrative center of the Railroad. Before 1996, it served as a storehouse for the railroad’s signaling equipment, electronics, and office supplies.

UCHS knew it had to raise money to repair the Signal House. It was in poor condition and was only usable for storage. In addition, UCHS was already in the middle of a major fundraising drive for its Umatilla Gold Wheat Exhibit. However, because of their extensive work with Eastern Oregon Business Source, UCHS had gained the skills and institutional capacity to develop a funding plan to reach its goal of restoring the Signal House.

The first step when trying to fund a project is to decide exactly what the project is trying to accomplish, and why the project matters to the community. UCHS wanted to use the Signal House to display an impressive collection of World War II artifacts. Such a display would provide a permanent location to house this collection and would help educate people of all ages while preserving pieces no longer commonly seen.

The next step was to establish rehabilitation priorities and solicit estimates for each step in the rehabilitation process. Here, UCHS made two decisions that were vital for their success. First, they developed a detailed budget that included the cost of each step in the restoration process. This allows funders to see that UCHS has a precise grasp of the cost of each phase of the project. The other decision that UCHS made, was to split the project into two phases. They did this just in case the full project was not funded. This allows funders to see that–if they decide to contribute money–it will be used for the intended project, even if the project is not fully funded.

Only once all of this work had been completed, did UCHS move forward with fundraising. In order to establish buy-in and local support, UCHS began by turning to members of the community. This fundraising effort raised $12,000. Once community support was in place, UCHS began to approach larger funders. From the beginning they focused on having a diverse base of support–something attractive to large funders. In addition, each time they heard news of support from a funder, they contacted outstanding funders to let them know that community support was building.

UCHS approached three local businesses receiving $5,000 from CHI St. Anthony’s Hospital, $5,000 from Hill Meat, and $3,000 from Umatilla Electric Coop. UCHS also, with the support of Eastern Oregon Business Source, wrote grants to the Umatilla County Economic and Community Development for $10,000, the Pendleton Foundation Trust for $10,000, and the Wildhorse Foundation for $15,000. UCHS had 100% grant approval on this project.

“The Signal House project is another example of the Umatilla County Historical Society’s ongoing work to showcase our history. In this case, the first exhibit in the building will be a dynamic representation of the Second World War as it affected the county, and beyond,” UCHS board president Tom Winn said.

Construction is scheduled to begin Summer 2018. World War II exhibit installation announcement will follow.

For more information about the Signal House, or the Umatilla County Historical Society please contact the Heritage Station Museum at (541) 276 0012, or email at​.

Contact: Tom Winn, Board President

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