It’s easy to drive right by the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum, but for those on the lookout, it’s well worth the trip.
The museum, located in North Bend, is a treasure trove for those looking for history about the southern Oregon coast. Welcoming you as you enter the museum is a photographic timeline, showing hundreds of pictures of historical events and people.
If you visit the museum, be prepared to learn things you wouldn’t know about the Coos Bay area. First off a realistic-looking mine exhibit puts you in the darkened tunnels of coal mines that were in the area.
From old tools and lanterns and clothing, the exhibit is just part of the more than 50,000 objects and 250,000 photographs the museum has in it’s collection. The museum’s collections include artifacts, images, and archival material relevant to Coos regional history, dating from pre-history through the 1970s.
Transportation, maritime artifacts, agricultural displays and local historic people are the focus of the museum, while one-third of the floor space changes every so often to focus on different aspects not normally shown.
While I was at the museum the special exhibits included information about several bridges by Conde McCollough, including the Coos Bay Bridge, now called the Conde B. McCollough Memorial bridge. The display featured historical information and a scale model of the bridge just miles away.
In addition, another section of the museum was dedicated to the women of Coos County. From hair art to dresses to information about the matriarchs of the county, the staff at the museum was quick to give you lessons on the important people, places and industries that kept Coos County growing.
“This area has a rich history that many people don’t realize,” said Vicki Wiese, collections manager. “It’s great to have people come in that don’t know about the history of the area and learn that we had a lot of coal mines and a thriving timber industry.”
To understand the challenges that Coos County faces, especially early on, you have to know the topography. That’s why when you enter the museum a topographical map shows you just how mountainous, secluded and generally bumpy Coos County really is.
“Boats were a major form of transportation and there were little boats everywhere here,” Wiese said. “That’s why a large part of our collection is dedicated to maritime history.”
From small boats that would act as water taxis to larger ships that would visit from around the world, the museum has multiple exhibits ranging from a model of a side of a ship, to different parts and pieces of ship wrecks.
Agriculture and dairy were also big industries in Coos County, and the museum also have a good collection of the history of both industries. From plows to old machines used to harvest the abundant cranberry crop, visitors get a good sense of just how much hard work went into earning a living before the turn of the century.
The museum offers tours, if you call ahead, and also has a robust school program where fourth and fifth graders visit the museum and learn about local history.
“Most of the time the museum is self-guided,” Wiese said. “But we do offer tours if people call ahead and let us know.”
The museum gift shop also carries many types of books and educational materials and even reproductions of images you can see in the museum. All proceeds go to support the museum.
The group is also fundraising to build a new museum near downtown Coos Bay.
About the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum: The Coos Historical and Maritime Museum is a non-profit with a mission of enhancing the intellectual, civic, and cultural life of Oregon’s south coast by facilitating awareness of local history.
What to bring: Make sure to give yourself at least 45 minutes to wander through the museum. Photography is allowed and there are no food or beverages allowed.
Tip: Calling ahead to schedule a tour is worth the effort. The guided tour I went on was well worth the time and I learned several things about Coos County that I didn’t know. Plus it’s always more fun when you have someone who is excited about the subject matter giving you the inside scoop on how things used to be in this isolated county.
Season: The museum is open year round.
Getting there: Plug 1220 Sherman Ave., North Bend, Oregon into the GPS and it is pretty easy to find. The museum is right off Highway 101 south of Coos Bay in North Bend.
By Patrick Johnson