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Celebrating People, Places & the Good Life in SW Washington State
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Pacific County: An Abundance of Museums and Historical Sites

With no fewer than 10 museums and interpretive centers, the rich history of Pacific County is on display. Three museums of the Raymond-South Bend area are detailed in ZEST in Cranberry Coast Part I. On the other side of Willapa Bay, even more sites deserve more than just a casual visit.

Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in downtown Ilwaco is a true community effort. What do you do with a massive telephone utility building? After the Ilwaco utility gave the building to the City, the Ilwaco Heritage Museum was created. The space was renovated in 1991 and renamed the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum three years ago.

Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum

In 2008, Betsy Dillard, who had moved to the area from Missouri, came out of a five-year retirement to become Executive Director. Previously, director of the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis, she brought years of experience to her job. “Museums are my kind of touchstone,” she says.

Big institutions ask, what makes a museum relevant? she says. “It didn’t have to be done here,” she says. “It is relevant because it started from a community base.” The building is used constantly by community groups including “the hookers” (rug makers), quilters, an art group, the American Legion and a bridge club which has been playing at the museum for 25 years. An exhibit of vintage bridge tablecloths chosen from a local private collection of 169 cloths will by on display until mid-July. The 20,000 square foot museum includes special space for rotating exhibits. Upcoming exhibits will include World War I posters and quilts.

The permanent collection, which numbers 15,000+ objects, includes a village by the sea, the 1880s Nahcotta train Pullman Palace car from the Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company (“The Railroad that Ran by the Tide”), a 26-foot lifesaving surfboat and an Exploration Gallery focusing on the 18 days spent by the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery in present-day Pacific County. The mezzanine houses a research library and model Shumway Railway. Admission fee. Free on Thursdays. There are lots of details at the museum Web site.

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is located high above the mouth of the Columbia and Cape Disappointment State Park. William Clark’s journal sums it up: “Ocian in View.”

Looking Out to Sea from the Interpretive Center

The views from the center are spectacular. Friendly interpretive staff like Aaron Webster are well-versed in the history of the area and the exhibits. A few items were part of the actual expedition including a whiskey flask, hatchet head and wooden box carved by Sacajawea.

Interpreting the Corps of Discovery

The award-winning film “Of Dreams and Discovery” is on view along with permanent and rotating exhibits. Two historic lighthouses—Cape Disappointment and North Head— can be explored. An added feature – the Discovery Trail, 15 miles of biking and walking paths from Ilwaco to Long Beach. Below the Interpretive Center, the waves crash at Waikiki Beach and the Confluence Project site at Cape Disappointment features Maya Lin’s basalt fish cleaning station. The Center is open daily. Admission fee. Details here.

Below the Interpretive Center and Lighthouse

More museums coming up including Fort Columbia State Park, World Kite Museum, the Cranberry Museum, Knappton Cove Heritage Center and Appelo Archives Center.

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1 comment

1 Sue Anderson { 06.24.10 at 9:23 am }

We definitely need to stop in and visit these museums again. It’s been too long since we were there. Thanks for reminding me about some of the wonderful places we have – and great photos!

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