Polson Museum closed for tours; will reopen soon

Polson Museum is closed for tours until April, but it’s for an exciting reason and the museum director there can’t wait to share with every one of Grays Harbor’s amateur historians.

The brown and white two-story mansion that was turned into a museum — 1611 Riverside Ave., in Hoquiam — is hard to miss. It faces the westbound traffic that heads into downtown Hoquiam traffic. The mansion itself has been there since 1924 and then it was turned into a museum in 1976. The museum has been open to the public since 1977.

The museum has been closed for tours since the start of 2023 and it won’t reopen until Saturday, April 1. At that point, museum staff will open it back up for a public open house called “No Foolin.’” The museum’s staff, however, will be available at the museum store to accept donations and conduct other business. People interested in checking out the store must call the museum’s number — 360-533-5862 — and schedule a time to come in. Staff is available to make appointments most Wednesdays through Saturdays.

The work inside the museum has taken a lot of effort, according to John Larson, Polson Museum’s director.

“It’s kind of a multi-pronged approach after the pandemic and the closures, when we were forced to be closed,” Larson said. “It kind of opened the window to the idea that it’s OK if we periodically have a closure that allows us to do work where we really can’t have the public in here. It just gets to be a mess is the best way to put it.”

Organizing for a museum makes organizing a home look easy.

“In the whole history of the museum you tend to get, periodically, a very large collection of stuff that comes in,” Larson said. “And so, in the case of what you see here is ephemera.”

But in that ephemera, which includes receipts and other small stuff the museum tends to keep, are quite a few items that should interest people who care about Grays Harbor’s history. Some of it includes patches from old high school letterman’s jackets, belt buckles, business cards and brochures.

“Look at this, this is cool, the Splash Festival, which is just neat,” Larson said as he held the 1938 Splash Festival poster.

The work is painstaking, but it has to be done.

Larson said Irene Kennedy and her team of collections volunteers have been spreading out every table the museum has to process the recent “substantial ephemera” and artifacts.

“To be able to process a collection this huge, you just have to have a lot of real estate in which to lay it all out, to be able to sort through everything. Irene was just going through the scrapbooks that had come in,” Larson said. “She’s flagging stuff with all these tags as to the relevance to Grays Harbor history. And then some things don’t belong here, so we try to pass that off to other museums elsewhere, but a lot does (belong.) It’s categorizing those items.”

Besides the initial cleanup and physical cataloguing, the museum needs to have a separate electronic database.

“Our database, we networked right to this room just for this project so we can do cataloguing right here in to our computer system, and then we’ll do a second one over there on a laptop,” Larson said. “But we have two inputting stations in which to take all this stuff.”

Notice how Larson has said “we” a lot. It takes a team effort to do this sort of work. Some of it is done by staff, and some is done by volunteers. One of the volunteers, Larson said, was learning the cataloguing process on Thursday. And then another couple of volunteers are there on Wednesdays to help with the process.

“Each day we’re just chipping away at dealing with a large collection like this,” Larson said. “It’s a private collection, personal stuff that’s Grays Harbor-related.”

Those items include photo negatives, film reels, post cards and other “cool stuff.”

“It’s just fantastic. Here’s McDermoth School, Aberdeen Washington. … I don’t know what year it is, probably in the 1940s,” said Larson as he flipped from that to the next photo. “And the Elks Band in Hoquiam. Look at these guys, all dressed in drag. That’s an interesting one. You get the idea. It’s all a manner of stuff.”

Beyond cataloguing, the big push is painting, Larson said.

“As you know during the closures we had during the pandemic, we did the whole main part of the house,” Larson said. “But what we hadn’t yet gotten to are a couple of these outside areas. The laundry here, there’s a service bathroom down below. And then this hallway leading up. This is something we needed to tackle.”

While areas like those spaces won’t necessarily be open to the public, Larson, who’s quite proud of the museum, wants it to look nice in case visitors see the space.

“We’re gonna take the time to, like here where you get the old paint like that, we’re gonna be going along and actually scraping off any of that old residue,” Larson said. “Just cleaning it up where people have been sloppy in the past with regards to painting and all that stuff. Big job, but we’ll get her. That’s kind of the main thrust of our work here during the closure.”

On top of all of that, there’s the exhibit work.

“Last year, we started installing some of these more robust sort of hung things,” Larson said. “We’re gonna be building out the exhibits a little better.”

Part of that work includes mount-making to better highlight select artifacts, fresh labeling that is visually consistent, improved donor acknowledgment for displayed artifacts, and “relevant” stories that better ground the Polson as a history museum for all Grays Harbor, Larson said.

“Logging room gives a good example,” Larson said. “We finished out, we finished all the enlargements, the frames. We built mounts for all of the labeling. To be able to actually pop in a real dragsaw with a photo of a dragsaw was a pretty great way to augment that.”

There are a couple milestones in the near future, which is partially why the museum is currently closed through this three-month period. And to do so for those occasions, they need time and space, according to Larson.

“Leading up to the Polson mansion’s 2024 centennial and the museum’s 2026-27 50th (anniversary), museum staff and volunteers are working to create first-class, mission-specific exhibits throughout the fully restored mansion,” Larson said.

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at matthew.wells@thedailyworld.com.