After two years of hard work by volunteers and an occasional contractor, the Wallowa History Center has a new home. Last spring they moved into the historic, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)-built, U.S. Forest Service compound on the west end of Wallowa. On July 4th the Center will celebrate its new digs with an open house from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. where you can learn more about the historic facility, and the History Center’s projects and plans for the future.
The CCC began construction of the five buildings of the Forest Service compound in 1936. They are a testament to the long presence of Forest Service in the town of Wallowa. In 1907, the newly ordained Wallowa Forest Supervisor’s office was located in Wallowa. In 1936 that office moved to Enterprise, but the District ranger’s office remained in Wallowa—along with its brand new buildings that included a home for the district ranger, the Forest Service Office, an ample garage, and a large storage building.
The History Center presently occupies the building that housed U.S.F.S. offices. It includes displays of historic photographs, and a small store that sells books, maps, and a few other things, including Smokey the Bear memorabilia. But there’s much more to the center than that. “We are really a research facility,” said History Center board president David Weaver. “We have archived a lot of historic materials. We have digital copies of many photographs. Perhaps our most important resource is Mary Ann Burrows, our founder, director and local historian. We are not a “museum” in the sense that you go around and just look at a lot of things. We are a resource for the community and to anyone who is researching or learning about the history of the town of Wallowa.”
That includes working with the Wallowa Schools. In May, Wallowa Elementary School’s Rendezvous brought about 90 students and teachers to the center to learn about their heritage. Center visitors have included families from Portland, Boise, and even Germany.
It took a bevy of dedicated volunteers from the City of Wallowa, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, and the community about two years to restore the building. Several local contractors pitched in too. “The carpets were filthy and everything was run down when we started,” said Executive Director Mary Ann Burrows. “There was plywood nailed to the floor under them, and a layer of linoleum below that. But underneath all that accumulation there were beautiful wood floors.” Today, cleaned and refinished by Christian Niece, the narrow pine flooring glows. The rest of the building proudly presents CCC craftsmanship at every turn, from the stylish arched entryway and knotty pine paneling, to the geometric wooden border at the top of the conference room walls.
But the USFS office is only one of the multiple buildings on the site. With the help of funding from the Oregon Cultural Trust, the History Center board of directors is developing a timeline for future restoration projects. The History Center’s next challenge will be restoring the large USFS shop and storage building into something more akin to an educational and resource center.
Plans for that work are in the very early stages, board president David Weaver noted. They include providing information about the history of the U.S. Forest Service in Wallowa County, and a historical timeline of the City of Wallowa and Wallowa County, as well as an area for presentations and gatherings.
The History Center is collaborating with the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Interpretive Center, the Wallowa County Museum, Josephy Center, and other Wallowa County nonprofits. “We want to support and collaborate with all these organizations,” Weaver said. “We may be one of the first places that people who are coming into Wallowa County to the area will visit. We want to be sure that they know about all the wonderful places where they can learn more, including the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Interpretive Center, the Wallowa County Museum, and all the other great places to get to know Wallowa County.
That project is still several years down the road, with planning and funding needs that will take time. But the Wallowa History Center’s restored Forest Service office building that you can explore today is a great start.