Washington State History Museum

Yesterday, we took the bus from Tobey Jones to the Washington State History Museum. They had free admission in honor of Martin Luther King’s Birthday.


The museum is housed in the old Union Station which was declared a national monument after train travel became less important and the upkeep of the building became more than the Union Pacific Railroad could afford. Part of it is now the Federal Courthouse and part has been refurbished as the museum. For its size, it has many very interesting exhibits.

I spent a lot of time at the model train layout (thanks to Ray Watters). I found it was really very accurate about Tacoma (and Western Washington in general) for the early part of the 20th century. It was interesting to see places that I’ve heard about in Tacoma’s history that aren’t there any more. It helps to be able to place them accurately, geologically.

There was a small, but nice, section about the history of women’s suffrage in Washington, honoring those early women who led the fight for voting rights for women. (Since it was MLK day, I was particularly interested in minority rights in Washington).

There was also a good series of short films about the Native Americans, and their poor treatment as the area was settled. The focus was on the loss of their cultures and languages. There were over 150 different tribes in Washington State, alone. Much of that is completely lost now.

I watched a longer (about 20 minutes or so) documentary about the Columbia River. It reawakened in me a desire to find out more about the exploitation of the river, because my grandfather worked on the dams around Spokane between 1905 and 1925 or so. My uncle was also an engineer for Portland Power and Light that ran the big hydro-electric dams on the lower Columbia River as well.

There were lots of interactive exhibits with hands-on activities that kids would appreciate. There were also exhibits showing a life-sized passenger rail car (that you could go inside), factory rooms, early dwellings, etc.  There was even a “pioneer” cabin with period clothing in kid sizes that they could dress up in.

I was disappointed not to see anything about Tacoma’s treatment of their Asian populations – either the expulsion of the Chinese in 1885, or the internment of the Japanese during World War II. The fact that this information was missing from the museum made me feel less confident in the other exhibits. I know these were shameful episodes in Tacoma’s history, but it was like I went to a historical museum in Dallas and no mention was made of the Kennedy assassination.

I just did a quick overview of the museum, and I think I will definitely go back.

2 thoughts on “Washington State History Museum

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.