Mary Ann Burrows loves history, especially the history of Wallowa, her home town. The energetic director of the Wallowa History Center was born in 1933, in a house just across the fence from the Center’s new digs in the historic Forest Service compound.
“We had a dairy farm right there,” Burrows said. The farm included a barn, silo, and milk house. “We delivered milk around town, and my father really loved history. He told stories, and also listened to stories as we went around the route each day.” Burrows graduated from Wallowa High School in 1951. By then, she was hooked on history. “I was set to major in history in college,” she said. “But I got married two years into my education. Then, elementary education seemed more practical.”
In 1991, after a 26-year career in teaching elementary school and reading in Ontario, Oregon schools, Burrows retired. She headed home. “I felt I could serve Wallowa best by preserving the community’s history,” she said.
Burrows comes from pioneer stock. Her maternal great-grandmother journeyed to Wallowa County from Iowa via a wagon train on the Oregon Trail. Her paternal great-grandparents farmed the Bartlett Bench above Troy, then moved into Wallowa. Her great-grandfather Rod McCrae ran the Hotel McCrae and also served as Mayor of Wallowa about 1906.
While going through her family photographs and documents, Burrows began to realize that without a place to keep all those documents, they could be lost to history. As a member of the Wallowa City Library board, she convinced her fellow board members that Wallowa’s history should be preserved. They found a secure location in the library basement and began to archive historic photos and documents while they toyed with the idea of forming some sort of history-based organization.
That project soon grew into a 501c3 non-profit, the Wallowa History Center, established in 2002. With a $5000 grant, the basement-dwelling center purchased a scanner, computer, and a computer desk, and began to convert historic photos into digital format. “We got some students involved, too, to help scan. But back then, we didn’t know much about computer files and photos, and so the images got scanned at only 100 dpi, she said. Still, the images were good enough for reproduction in the center’s first book: "Looking Back at Our town” published by Mark Highberger’s Bear Creek Press.
In 2003 the fledgling History Center nested in a building on Main Street in Wallowa, where preserving the town’s history continued as their principal mission.
When the City of Wallowa acquired the historic U.S. Forest Service compound at the west end of town, they deemed the history center to be the best and most appropriate resident.
Burrows is thrilled with the opportunity to work on this project. “I was only about 2 years old when the CCC started building it,” she said. “So I don’t remember too much about everything that was going on. I wish my older brother and sister were still alive—they would remember so much more about what was happening then. But what a wonderful thing to be here now, right where I was born.”
Being the Grand Marshal of Wallowa’s 4th of July Parade is an honor that Burrows relishes. “I was a little nervous at first, she said. “But now I think I’ll just really sit back and enjoy it.” She has been practicing her wave. “There aren’t many communities that have a 4th of July parade,” she said. “The Parade really brings the community together. It celebrates this great nation of ours and all it stands for.” If you want to meet Burrows before or after the parade, she’ll be at the History Center, leading tours and telling stories about the long history of the community that she loves.