Museum location: Chehalis. Permanent displays: This interesting museum is housed in the beautiful 1912 Northern Pacific Railway Depot (the...

Share story

Museum location: Chehalis.

Permanent displays: This interesting museum is housed in the beautiful 1912 Northern Pacific Railway Depot (the leased building is actually still owned by BNSF Railway). The large, Mission-style brick structure is nearly a block in length, with soaring ceilings, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of the station’s original waiting-room benches are in one of the exhibit areas.

Lewis County, Washington’s oldest county, is named after Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame. The county originally had much larger borders, stretching from the Columbia River north into present-day British Columbia, and from the Pacific Ocean to the crest of the Cascades. The permanent exhibits at the museum largely focus on the lives of the area’s white settlers. Visitors can see how people lived, with rooms that include a turn-of-the-century Victorian parlor, a master bedroom and a kitchen.

Businesses of the time are also replicated in the blacksmith shop, the railroad office and a second-hand store. Kids will enjoy playing in the hands-on exhibit area, which features a child-size general store and an old-time kitchen.

There’s also a model railroad, and don’t miss the clever “What Is It?” display, where you can guess the identity and uses of household items from the past. Don’t forget to look up, especially in the back exhibit room — the walls are lined with old machinery and tools.

There’s a room dedicated to Native American baskets and other items from the local Cowlitz and Chehalis Indians. A brief display discusses the 1855-56 Indian War; however, the vast majority of tribes in Southwest Washington were friendly to settlers.

Highlights: Through October, the museum has an extraordinary temporary exhibit featuring the stories and belongings of local settlers who came out to Washington along the Oregon Trail (the northernmost branch of the trail passed through this area). See items such as a wooden chest brought from Pennsylvania, a Winchester rifle, a violin, kitchen items, quilts and a christening gown. Many items shown here were carried across the country in a wagon similar to a 100-year-old replica on display, which helps you imagine just how small a space you had to haul your family and all your worldly possessions. Learn how settlers discarded things along the trail to lighten their load, and who benefited from the abandoned goods.

Hours: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays and holidays.

Admission: Adults $2, seniors $1.50, children 6-18 $1, families $5.

Directions: From I-5 at Chehalis, take Exit 79, head east and follow signs to the museum. It’s on your right, at the beginning of the old downtown area, in the historic train depot.

For more information: 360-748-0831 or www.lewiscountymuseum.org.

— Cathy McDonald, Special to The Seattle Times

Cathy McDonald, a Renton-based freelance writer, is a regular contributor

to Northwest Weekend.