As you exit the Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry, the road directs you up to Winslow Way, its quaintness beckons you and you’ll find it hard to resist, but wait…before you explore the wonderful shops and restaurants, take a quick detour and turn right onto Ericksen Avenue. Within a minute or two you’ll find yourself at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum where you’ll be confronted with a large, strange iron object and a beautiful horse sculpture.
The iron object is a portion of a retort cylinder used to treat wood with creosote for building purposes, the plant itself was located at the entrance to Eagle Harbor and was one of the world’s largest producers of treated wood products. The plant’s products made history on their own, used on major construction projects throughout the U.S. and many other parts of the world, including the Panama Canal, take a moment to walk inside the retort and read more about its history.
The horse sculpture was created by local artist, Travis Foreman, of Foremans Forest Works, and is made of driftwood. Now that I’ve piqued your interest, take a little time to visit the museum itself. I met with Rick Chandler, Curator and Facilities Coordinator at the BIHM, to learn more about the museum and its history. Rick has been with the museum for 19 years and an island resident since 1976, he’s also worked with museums all over the country, including the Smithsonian.
The Bainbridge Island Historical Museum began as an informal Society in the 1930s, and in 1949 they joined with the Kitsap County Historical Society, Bainbridge Island Branch. In 1971, the Island Center schoolhouse (the schoolhouse was built in 1908, and one of the last one-room schools in operation on the island until 1923, when it closed), was donated by the school district to the Society to be used as a museum and moved to Strawberry Hill Park (site of a former U.S. Army Nike missile base). As the museum grew, and the community donated materials, they soon found themselves full to capacity, and through the generosity of the McCracken family, a new building was added onto the rear of the schoolhouse in 1997. Though Strawberry Hill was a beautiful setting for the museum, it wasn’t easily accessible and a new site was located on Ericksen Avenue, just one block north of Winslow Way and a short walk from the Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry terminal. Both museum buildings were moved to the new site in 2004.
The museum has over a hundred docents/volunteers, so there’s always someone to share their knowledge and guide you through the exhibits. Rick suggested checking their website for special exhibits and events. In addition to Travis Foreman’s sculptures, another island artist, Chris Demarest’s work is featured in the main lobby of the museum – although Chris never officially titled the piece, he told me its unofficially called “First to Leave” as it depicts the first Japanese-Americans, all from Bainbridge Island, to be sent to internment camps under Executive Order 9066.
The museum is a delightful way to learn about the islands storied history and must see for visitors and locals alike.