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Job Carr Cabin Museum:
An Oral History

by Emma Pierce, Gene Grulich, Karen Poole and Phillis Olson

Originally published in the Eureka Times, 2016 Spring issue

When one thinks of Old Town, they often picture the many shops, businesses, and houses along with the beautiful view of Commencement Bay. But one image is synonymous with this historic neighborhood of Tacoma: the replica of Job Carr’s Cabin in Old Town Park. However, the cabin has not always been nestled in the quiet park. Like the original cabin, it has an interesting history all its own.

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About the Architect

Thanks to architect Gene Grulich, the replica of Job Carr’s cabin came to life. Gene, born in California then moving to Texas, discovered a passion for architecture at an early age. He graduated with a Master of Architecture degree in 1970 from the University of Oregon and later became a member of The American Institute of Architects. Post-graduate school, Gene was awarded funding from the University of Texas to work on archeological projects in Yugoslavia and Greece. 

In late 1971, Gene and his wife, Margie, decided to move back to the United States and settled in Tacoma, where he was struck by the beautiful, old architecture of the buildings along with their connection to local history. Gene became a licensed architect and started his own firm, with projects around the city and state of Washington, including the restoration of several cabins, most notably the Jackson Courthouse and the restoration of the Granary and Bastions at Fort Nisqually for Metro Parks Tacoma.

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Museum founders Karen Poole and Phillis Olson at the dedication of the Job Carr mural in 2006.

The Backstory

At this time, Job’s original cabin sat just inside the entrance to 5 Mile Drive in Point Defiance Park, having been relocated there from elsewhere in the park in 1916. Gene saw the structure when visiting the park; only a “shell of the former structure remained,” having no doors or windows. Even though in this condition, the City added the cabin to the Tacoma Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Dedication of the Carr Cabin in Pt Defiance Park, 1917

In 1988, (in spite of its “Historic” status) Job Carr’s Cabin was deconstructed, due to safety concerns. Mike Hutchins from Metro Parks called upon Gene Grulich to inspect the soundest of the old logs to see if they could be used to rebuild the cabin. He determined that the logs were not adequate to do the job well.

In the mid 1990’s, Karen Poole and Phillis Olson, owners of a boutique in Old Town and active members of the Old Town Business Association began discussions about bringing back the historic presence of Old Town Tacoma. What better way to re-establish Old Town’s historic credentials than to replicate the first permanent white settler’s home in its original neighborhood? Once again, Job Carr’s cabin took center stage.

Karen and Phillis formed an Executive Council with business owners and private citizens of Old Town and Tacoma, and began meeting regularly. An architect was needed for the replication project, and Gene was contacted. It was natural, with his interest and expertise, that he join this new effort to bring Job Carr’s cabin back to Old Town. After he was retained, a 1916 article about Job’s original cabin in a local newspaper piqued his interest and gave some clarity to the scope of work ahead. It discussed the moving of the cabin within Point Defiance Park, and gave the dimensions of the logs and other details.

Once again, Gene, with Executive Council member Valerie Sivinski (then Tacoma’s Historic Preservation Officer), went to examine the logs in the storage yard and found none to be sound enough for the replication. He and Valerie doubted that very many of the logs were from the original structure, and believed that rotten logs had been replaced by newer ones each time it was moved. Since not enough of the materials were from Job’s original cabin, a rebuilt structure could not be designated as a historic landmark.

Could a Museum Succeed?

The Executive Council wanted the replication to be a museum, but Gene had some apprehensions going into the project, such as how they could keep the replica historically accurate and still meet modern safety standards. Gene was a little hesitant to call it a museum at first. He knew it would be a small building, and wouldn’t have the kind of facilities that are normally associated with museums, no large spaces for exhibits and little to no storage space. From the very beginning though, with support from numerous Carr family descendants and their willingness to loan and donate Job’s family heirlooms, the small museum became a reality.

To build community support, Gene built a scale model of the replica cabin. The cabin model and historic photos were displayed in libraries and around the community; press releases were also distributed to get the word out. Presentations were given to service organizations and schools. People greeted the idea with great enthusiasm. After working for a year preparing the construction documents, permits for the project were obtained. With permission granted by Metro Parks to go forward on the project, the idea of the new cabin was determined to be a good historical education addition to the community.

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Building a Dream

Construction of the replica cabin began in spring of 2000. Many companies and organizations had their hand in helping bring Job’s cabin back to life. The team reached out to Absher Construction and Rushforth Construction (now Adolfson & Peterson Construction) to oversee the project; their donated services and equipment “were invaluable to getting the cabin built.” For example, one of the standout donations was the heating and cooling system.

Brad Cheney, a member of the founding Executive Council, had connections to many logging companies in Washington. A Tacoma firm was approached and they donated the 48 perfect-size logs, which were stored to dry out at North Fork Timber Company in Rochester, Washington. A log-home construction company named Shire Mountain Homes helped with the construction of the cabin.

As the construction was in full swing, Claudia Rambauer, an Old Town resident and Executive Council member, researched Carr Family journals to see how the cabin should be furnished. All of the furniture in the Cabin Museum is true to the period 1865-1890, coming from local families and around Washington State. As for the amenities of the Museum, the main idea behind them was to allow for modern use while maintaining an authentic look. The windows were made by a company on Vashon Island; a blacksmith in Ft. Nisqually forged all the interior door latches and hinges; Pioneer Farms in Eatonville and Fox Island Historical Society’s Achesen Cabin provided inspiration for the set up. After the logs were placed to form the shell of the cabin, it became obvious that a ladder would be needed to access the loft; Gene built it, true to the time period. The fireplace was made to be operational. The only difference between Job’s original cabin and the replica are the office and restroom that occupy some of the space created by the lean-to on the back of the Cabin Museum, making it possible to function as a non-profit business.

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After tireless work from many hands, the Job Carr Cabin Museum was completed and dedicated on December 2, 2000.

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Dedication ceremony for the construction of Job Carr Cabin Museum, December 2, 2000

Celebrating Success

Since its dedication fifteen years ago, the Cabin Museum remains in excellent condition. It survived the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, thousands of visitors and wide-eyed school children, and has “weathered very well.” With only a few replacements or tweaks here and there, the Cabin is still standing as it was originally built, to “Bring Tacoma’s Birthplace to Life.”

Our thanks go to Gene Grulich for his expertise on building this small gem, and the Executive Council for their many hours and dedication to a wonderful grassroots project.

Editor’s Note:

This oral history project began during our 150-year celebration in 2015. Emma Pierce, a Cabin volunteer and PLU student, interviewed Architect Gene Grulich. Emma authored the account upon which this article is based, using recordings of her interviews with Gene. All quotations are directly from these recordings.

After the original article was complete, it was sent to Gene and to JCCM founders, Karen Poole and Phillis Olson, for review. Each one had more detail to add. The finished document published here is a team effort, capturing the story of how Job Carr Cabin Museum was established and how its story links with Job Carr’s original home - Tacoma’s first permanent pioneer residence.

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Job Carr's Original Cabin: A Timeline

December, 1864: Job chooses “Shebaulop” for his claim

Spring, 1865: Job begins building the cabin

November, 1865: Job is just completing the cabin roof when his son, Anthony, arrives

1900: Job’s cabin is moved to Point Defiance Park, near the Pagoda

1917: The cabin is moved once more - this time to the entrance to 5-Mile Drive

February 24, 1976: Job Carr’s Cabin is added to Tacoma’s List of Historic Places

c. 1980’s: The cabin has deteriorated so much, it is deemed unsafe and deconstructed; materials that appear to still be useful are stored by MetroParks

Find out about Job Carr's log cabin and the cabin museum in this video