Preserving local history through ‘signs of the times’

Pamela & Patrick Emmingham of Thrifty Threads purchased a variety of Florence’s iconic signs by Stu Henderson.

Local business refurbishes local history

Apri 10, 2019 — The Old Boarding House on Maple Street feels like a time machine. There is a sign on the front of the recently refurbished building that gives a brief description of the early history of one of Florence’s first successful businesses, and it says simply: “Old Town Rooms for Rent.”

That five-word declaration was enough information to keep the dozen or so rooms in the two- story building occupied for most of the next 50 years.

After that time, renting rooms eventually gave way to a used clothing store and — for the last 15 years — a vintage business known as Thrifty Threads filled with used things from Oregon’s past that are bought, refurbished and resold in slices of history.

Pamela and Patrick Emmingham, owners of Thrifty Threads, have lived in the refurbished rooming house for decades after Pam purchased the building in 1980.

“Originally this was a boarding house for the mills,” Pam explained. “Workers each had a room. It was a community bathroom and they were studio rooms; I believe there were 11 rooms altogether.”

While the couple are small business owners, their interest is primarily as historians, recyclers and raconteurs pursuing their passion for saving bits and pieces of Oregon that many others have discarded or abandoned. Though some artifacts are purchased at estate sales, many are offered to the couple as a “last resort” before being discarded.

One example is the current sign on the front of building. The only one of its kind, it was created by well-known local artist and sign painter Stuart Henderson, whose work has come to be appreciated around the state for its artistic treatment of basic themes. He is also a longtime Florence resident that has retired and seen appreciation for his work increase with each passing year.

The Thrifty Threads sign is well made and hand-painted, with a filigree flare to the lettering that denotes an artist, as well as an accomplished sign maker.

The sign is just one of hundreds painted by Henderson over the years that have been displayed throughout Florence and, particularly, in front of businesses in Historic Old Town Florence as far back at the early 1970s. It is the history associated with Henderson’s artful signs that recently inspired the Emminghams to undertake a major renovation on their building.

“When we heard that some of Stu Henderson’s signs might get thrown out, we knew we had to try and get them,” said Patrick, who found out that there was a huge sale at Treehouse Signs. “Sam Dantone did purchase the Treehouse sign business from Stu, so a lot of the signs that Sam eventually replaced were signs that Stu had done previously,” he continued. “And we bought a lot of Stu’s signs.”

One was the Old Town sign now displayed on the building, which for years had been the city’s sign announcing the entrance to Old Town.

“We thought it was so cool, we just had to have it on our building,” Patrick said.

The purchase of the original Old Town sign also spurred the Emminghams to paint and upgrade their home and business. The freshly painted yellow exterior of Thrifty Threads complements the color scheme and motif of the Old Town sign and gives the Emminghams a feeling they are not only saving precious pieces of Florence’s history — but also helping the environment in the process.
“We have sort of been going green since before that was popular, and that’s kind of the idea up to today,” Pam said. “We try to recycle and save some cool things from just being thrown out.”

And along the way, preserve a sign or two of the times — along with pieces history and the local artists who created them.


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