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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, the Greater Kent Historical Society. A committee was formed with regular meetings in City Hall. A public campaign began to collect artifacts and information about the early days of Kent and the surrounding area.
As the GKHS and its collections grew, additional space was necessary. In 1993, a space was located at 209 West Meeker that became the temporary home of the society and its collection for almost five years. In the meantime, GKHS 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. The house, the shed, carriage barn were purchased by the city in August 1996. City began extensive renovations in 1997 to support public access to the building.
Later occupants of the home included the E.K. Saito family who were successful members of the active Japanese American community before leaving Kent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In 1996 construction began of Stuart Nakamura‘s major public art piece titled, Another Place. It honors the rich, local history of Japanese American community and the tragic impact of the incarceration during World War II.
The empty 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 of Kent and the Greater Kent Historical 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 welcomes new members from the community and organizations every year. The City of Kent and the King County Landmarks and Heritage Commission have become appreciated partners in its success. In recent years, culture has provided sustained support and special project support.