The museums in Oregon take their work seriously.
History is important to all people of all eras. However, in the United States there are few states where history is more important than in Oregon. Preserving this history is important. As a result, there is more at stake than just preservation.
Oregon’s history is its identity
The people of Oregon are proud of their history. What does this mean for visitors? Simply put, access to world class museums.
However, important events isn’t all that Oregon preserves in its museums.
Museums In Oregon: Arts, Nature, Rail History
Oregon has links to the arts, nature and the Union Pacific Railway. Therefore, museums in Oregon have exhibits dedicated to these points. In addition, museums provide locals and visitors with a fun, interactive experience.
Entertaining visitors keeps them coming back. Therefore, offering guests the chance to learn while entertaining them is their business. As a result it keeps the museum’s doors open.
The aim here is to start a conversation. Therefore, tell me your thoughts in the comments. Have you visited a great museum in Oregon? I’d love to hear about it. For now, lets get this list started.
Museums In Oregon: History
National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
The history of the Pacific North-West is brought back to life here.
Located just 5 miles east of Baker City, this is a must visit site for history buffs.
The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center offers more than exhibits. You’ll also find multi-media presentations, special events, and more than four miles of interpretive trails.
The center tells the story of Oregon Trail pioneers. It also tells tails of explorers, miners and settlers. It includes the remains of the Flagstaff Gold Mine. As a result, here you’ll see ruts carved by pioneer wagons.
The Center is run with support from volunteers from Trail Tenders. Their love of local history is infectious. These volunteers also manage the Oregon Trail Shop. As a result, the funds raised from the shop are donated to the Center to cover running costs.
Oregon Historical Society
Located in Portland, the Oregon Historical Society looks at history differently.
This site is less focused on the history of nationhood. In other words, it is more focused on the region’s complete history.
The Society has run for more than a century. At the start they collected important artifacts, photographs, films and books. More recently, their mission has evolved.
Researchers from around the world travel the societies library. Also, locals look for information here on family trees and to discover the history of their homes or neighborhoods.
Their vast collection has seen other historians take notice. Archaeologists, filmmakers, architects, novelists and artists have all visited looking for information.
It’s more than a dusty museum full of outdated relics. Here, they share their collection through modern museum exhibits and digital platforms.
Oregon Rail Heritage Center
The Pacific Northwest’s proud rail history is well known. The Union Pacific rail line made this region what it is. As a result, you can’t visit this region and find out more about what built it.
Also located in Portland, the Oregon Heritage Center honours this history. Here you will find America’s last two operating steam locomotives. The Southern Pacific 4449 and the Spokane Portland Seattle 700. A third, the Oregon Railway & Navigation 197 is currently under restoration.
The current site of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center is the Brooklyn Roundhouse in southeast Portland. However, a massive fundraising campaign is nearing its end. This campaign will see over $4.5 raised to build a new Center to house these rare pieces of pacific northwest history.
Other exhibits located on the current site include
- Vintage passenger cars
- diesel locomotives, and other rolling stock
- Fully operational machine Shop
- A 100-degree turntable.
Museums In Oregon: Art
The Favell Museum Native American Artifacts and Contemporary Western Art
Native American history meets contemporary art at this unique museum. The Favell Museum is in Klamath Falls, 80 miles East of Medford.
The museum is also home to over 100,000 Native American and Indian artifacts. In addition, they house pieces from native tribes from around the world.
Collections dating from 12,000 years ago include arrowheads, knives, ancient stone tools, clothing, bead work and pottery.
In addition, the site houses a vast array of modern artworks. The works of over 300 contemporary western artists are on display. Each tell their own stories of the west.
Also, many famous artists have work displayed here. These include original paintings by Charles M. Russell and Edgar S. Paxson.
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (JSMA)
Students, art fans and history enthusiasts will enjoy the tour of this modern art museum. The museum is located on the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene.
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is the premier Pacific visual arts center in Oregon. In addition, it contains exhibitions and collections of historic and contemporary art.
The building was designed by Ellis F. Lawrence. When built, it was part of his main university quadrangle vision. Today this is now known as the Memorial Quadrangle.
Inside the building it is a wonder of art from around the world. Exhibitions from China, Europe, Japan, Korea, Russia and the Americas are on display.
The JSMA is also a great place to visit for kids and families. Programs include
- art classes for elementary and secondary school students
- art camps during school breaks
- Family Days, which feature art projects inspired by museum exhibitions
- music and theatrical performances
- and family-friendly tours
Hallie Ford Museum of Art
The Oregon capital finally makes the list!
Salem is home to The Hallie Ford Museum of Art (HFMA). The museum opened to the public in 1998. However, it has been in operation much longer than 20 years.
The museum is the home of Willamette University liberal arts studies. As a result, it serves as an intellectual and cultural resource for the Salem and the state of Oregon.
It collects, preserve and exhibits pieces consistent with its mission. Its focus is on contemporary art with an emphasis on regional art.
The museum is a vibrant artistic hub. It also offers a variety of public programs.
General admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for students 18 and older. In addition, students 17 and under and children are admitted free. Admission is free for everyone on Tuesdays.
Museums In Oregon: Science and Nature
Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum
This place is amazing. The museum is in McMinnville Oregon. Just over half hours’ drive from Portland and less than that from the state capital Salem.
I’ve always had an interesting in aviation. Therefore, the history preserved here is of special interest to me. Despite this, my wife is not interested aviation at all. Even so, she tells me this didn’t stop her enjoying this museum.
The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is home to several important pieces.
- the Hughes Flying Boat, “Spruce Goose,”
- SR-71 Blackbird spy plane
- Titan II Missile
- 150 other historic aircraft, spacecraft and exhibits
Visitors can take a ride in the flight simulator. Here you do your best impersonation of Maverick from Top Gun with the combat simulator option. In addition, you can captain more commercial aircraft through take off and landing. There is also a virtual roller coaster option for the kids!
The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum is open 7 days a week. The cost is reasonable, and you’ll enjoy a great day out. Check out their opening hours and exhibit details via their website and Facebook page.
Oregon State Hospital – Museum of Mental Health
The mission here is to bear witness and give voice. Let’s be honest, the historical treatment of those with mental illnesses hasn’t been all beer and skittles. I’m not passing judgment on those from previous eras. However, the treatment of mental illness has come along way in last century.
The museum of mental health demonstrates that in various ways.
Established in 1883, the Oregon State Hospital is Oregon’s primary adult psychiatric facility. It was also the last Kirkbride-inspired hospital on the West Coast.
The 2500 square foot museum is in the oldest building on Salem’s Oregon State Hospital Campus. The museum tells many stories of the hospital, its community and those who were treated here.
There are some chilling tales among them.
Exhibits here include tales of the filming of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Also included on the tour is the history of mental illness treatment and what the infamous underground tunnels were used for.
Crater Rock Museum
Natural wonders abound at Crater Rock Museum. You’ll find the museum in Medford, Oregon’s third largest city.
This Museum houses interesting rocks, minerals and gems. Therefore, it is a geologist’s dream. Also, there is a display of Native American historical artifacts.
A recent renovation of the site has seen the museum explode in size. As a result, the floor space has increased from 5,400 square feet to more than 12,000 square feet.
Museums In Oregon: Vacation Vine’s wildcard pick
The Historic Carousel and Museum of Albany
What a wildcard pick this is!
The Historic Carousel and Museum was founded in 2004 and is located in Albany. This museum draws visitors from around the world.
The Museum is great for families, youngsters and the young at heart. As a result, you can get swept away in the fun and excitement here.
The fully functional carousel holds 52 hand-carved and painted animals. As a result, this is the centerpiece of the museum.
Every animal on the carousel has a story to tell. They have been crafted by local volunteers following thousands of hours of love and labor.
During your visit you’ll learn about the carousel’s history, each animals story and why this piece is important to the area.
Museums In Oregon: Conclusion
Oregon is a state that takes its history seriously. They also enjoy having fun with that history and showing it off to visitors. When visiting Oregon I urge you to get to a local museum. Soak up that history.
They more we understand about the past, the better our future will be.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again”. Maya Angelou
History isn’t just about learning lessons from the past. It’s also accepting the past without judgement. I’ve found my love of history has fostered gratitude for the age we currently live in. Visiting museums is a way of connecting with the past and honoring those who had it much worse than us.
Oregon has some fantastic museums. In addition, the people of Oregon know how to entertain visitors. It isn’t hard to see why thousands of people visit these museums every year. Make sure you are one of them soon.
Museums in Oregon FAQ
What are the best museums in Oregon?
- National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center - Oregon Historical Society - Oregon Rail Heritage Center - Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum - Crater Rock Museum - The Historic Carousel and Museum of Albany