The Wallowa County Museum, the county’s official repository of historical items and information, held an open house on Friday, June 28. It was a popular event, not only because of the cookies, cake and lemonade served, but also because the museum’s contents are fascinating. Where else can you see the real tooth and tusk of a 17-foot tall Columbian Mammoth that once walked the prairies just north of Enterprise? Or browse through the careful essays and impressive artwork of Wallowa County first-graders that were proudly displayed at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland Exhibition?
The Wallowa County Museum is housed in the historic First Bank of Joseph building, built in 1888. Local volunteers started the museum in 1976 as a bicentennial project. In 1978 the building, on South Main Street in Joseph, was entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum’s first floor includes a Nez Perce room complete with mortars, pestles, and other tools, an authentic teepee and travois (the horse pulling it is life-sized but doesn’t move very much). If you follow a passageway to the “back room” which was once the Joseph Fire Station, you’ll find buckaroo gear, including an exhibit honoring the centennial of the McClaran ranch, Nellie May Biggs’ side-saddle, and a compact 1919 Chandler and Price printing press, which seems a bit out of place, but still intriguing, among the wool chaps, Cliff Wade polo bits, cream separators, and butter churns.
The museum’s second floor is well-lit and dedicated to schools, homes, and families. You’ll find a curious black wedding dress, dioramas that display period dining rooms and kitchens, and information about pioneer and early Wallowa County lives. You’ll also discover a variety of military uniforms and history, including glimpses of Wallowa County veterans during the first and second world wars. Photos and information about Wallowa County’s 90 (ninety) school districts and their mostly one-room schoolhouses is up there as well. In the 1920’s and 1930’s most of these schools were busy educating Wallowa County’s youth.
The museum includes an extensive archive of historic photographs, newspapers, scrapbooks, and documents that are available for research. They have digital copies of the glass negatives, and volunteers are gradually completing the daunting task of scanning and creating digital copies of their images and negatives. And the museum store carries many hard-to find books about local history, as well as DVDs and artwork.
The museum’s summer hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for Seniors, $2 for children ages 7-17, and children under 6 are free. For more information (or to volunteer) call 541-432-6095.