In 1992, during a Kent Old-Timers meeting, Rae Reitan, a native of Kent and the City Historian, suggested that the city of Kent have its own historical society, Greater Kent Historical Society. A committee was formed that began regular meetings in City Hall and a public campaign to collect artifacts and information about Kent and the surrounding area.
As GKHS grew, additional space was required. During 1993, a space was located at 209 West Meeker became the temporary home of the society and its collection for almost five years. In the meantime, he society leadership worked with the City of Kent to find a more permanent location.
Interest eventually settled on the historic Bereiter home, located on Smith Street, across 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 at the time, 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 leaving Kent during World War II.
The house, the shed, carriage barn 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 incarceration 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 GKHS committed to the museum’s operation.
The Veterans Blue Star Memorial By-Way Marker Rose Garden in was added in September, 2006. It serves as a 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 Greater Kent Historical Society continues to grow as a viable entity in the Kent community. It continues 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 its success. However, it is the dedicated volunteers that continue to give their time and labor who keep the museum open and functioning.