Fred Jensen, curator of the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum, more than just oversees the collection of artifacts and photographs in his downtown Florence museum, he shares the stories of the area.
“I am probably one of the last river rats,” Jensen, who was born on Duncan Island on the Siuslaw River. “I have lived here my whole live, except for the time I spent for Uncle Sam in Korea.”
Jensen oversees a two-story old school house at the corner of Maple and Second streets in Florence, which houses the museum. For years he used to own a hardware store, and people around town knew of his love of photography.
“They would bring in pictures and I would copy them,” Jensen said. “So I have hundreds of old photos, with their stories that I am always trying to get into the museum.”
From old school pictures, to boats that were beached trying to enter the Siuslaw from the ocean to photos of Highway 101 construction in the area. Each photo has a custom-made frame, also made by Jensen, from wood that came from an old boat shed. His grandfather and father were both Salmon gillnetters on the Siuslaw until the practice was banned in the 1950s.
Jensen not only reprints the old photos, but will tell you the story of each one.
“I also went around with a recorder and told the stories, so they won’t be lost when I am gone,” he said. “I know I’m not going to be around forever.”
And that’s the unique part of the museum, that every volunteer has a story about living in the area. If you are curious at all about the history of this part of the Oregon coast, a visit to the museum will bring it alive.
Several of the volunteers mentioned that before the road system was built, the people of Florence used the Siuslaw River to get around – it was their natural highway.
Schoolhouse boats, mail boats and ferries were commonplace on the river. The stories change your whole perspective of the river, if you take highway 126 back into Eugene, looking at the old docks and pylons give you a sense of how busy the river once was.
The museum is broken into several sections, with downstairs including exhibits on how people made their living and another on how they lived. Many artifacts from the logging, fishing and boating industry are included.
Upstairs visitors can see a Native American collection of artifacts, a military section covering the Civil War, World Wars I and II and the Korean War – including Jensen’s uniform from when he served.
If that wasn’t enough to keep your interest, in the back of the museum is the boat Jensen’s family used for gillnetting, and the latest addition is the circa-1936 controls for the Siuslaw River drawbridge.
“We are still setting up a display where people will be able to see how the controls worked,” Jensen said.
Also in the back of the museum is research library, where volunteers help people research, people, places or events in the history of the area.
“We even do research requests for people who can’t finish when they are here, then we e-mail, call or send the results to them,” said Tina Shoys, who oversees the research library.
From old newspapers, cemetery records, census data and obituaries, the library is a great way to find out if you had members of your family who were part of the pioneers who headed west.
“Some people are amazed by what they find,” said Dick Whitmore, a volunteer and former elementary school principal.
About the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum: The museum, located at 278 Maple Street in Florence’s historic Old Town, is in an old school building that was constructed in 1905. It features artifacts and an extensive photo collection which features the early settlers, loggers, fisherman and entertainment from times of old. The museum’s research library has all different types of documents for people looking to research people, places or events that occurred around the Florence area.
What to bring: Photography is allowed in the museum, so make sure the clear off those memory cards and charge the batteries. In addition, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to visit, you get out of this museum what you put into it. If you ask questions and are curious about the history, your visit can last several hours. If you want to just walk through and look, it can take as little as 30 minutes.
Tip: Most of the volunteers who are on staff have either lived some of the events, or are part of long-time Florence families. Taking a moment to ask questions can give you a great lesson on local history.
Season: The museum is only open in the afternoons, and during the summer months there are more people around. The museum is open in the winter, but has limited hours. For more information call, 541-997-7884.
Getting there: The Siuslaw Pioneer Museum is located one block off of Highway 101 in Florence. Heading down Highway 101 turn onto Maple Street where the “Old Town” Florence sign is located. The museum is on the left. There is a parking lot in the back of the museum with a number of spaces, or you can park on the street. The address is 278 Maple Street, Florence, OR.
By Patrick Johnson