Washougal history museum ‘prepared and ready’ for new season, influx of visitors

Two Rivers Heritage Museum will open to public again on Saturday, March 5

Doug Flanagan/Post-Record Tish Bayer, the new president of the Two Rivers Heritage Museum board of directors, moved to Washougal in 2005 after retiring from a career in nonprofit orginization development and joined the board in 2022.

Doug Flanagan/Post-Record Two Rivers Heritage Museum volunteers moved the museum's old water pump from the main building to the Carriage House in an effort to give it more visibility. "It will be on display in a different light," said museum volunteer Richard Johnson. "I think it was missed here in the building because it was mixed with all that activity on that wall, but when you look at it out there, it really jumps out at you. It's very three- dimensional. I think it's going to be an (improvement)."

A Two Rivers Heritage Museum volunteer looks at the museum's collection of school memorabilia on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

Two Rivers Heritage Museum volunteer Karen Johnson rings an old school bell at the museum on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023. The bell used to hang in the belltower of the one-room Forest Hill School, which consolidated with the Washougal School District in 1928. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

As a native New Yorker and longtime Bay Area resident, Tish Bayer didn’t know much at all about the history of east Clark County when she moved to Washougal with her husband, John, in 2005 after retiring from a long career as a development professional for nonprofit organizations.

She’s learned a lot since then, especially after joining the Two Rivers Heritage Museum’s board of directors in 2022.

“It’s nice to be involved with the (museum),” said Bayer, who took over for Jim Cobb as board president earlier this year. “I really enjoy spending time with the volunteers; I love to sit and just listen to them. I see so much (here) from my growing-up years in my mother’s home. She would be amazed; I mean, this sewing machine (from the 1920s) was something that she had. And I just enjoy the area.”

Bayer and the rest of the volunteers are looking forward to Saturday, March 5, when the museum will reopen to the public for the first time in 2023. “I think it’s going to be better than last year. Every year has to be better (than the one before),” said volunteer Ivar Godtlibsen. “Between the donations and the grants and the tour (income), we’re doing OK financially. We’re surviving. This past year was good; we came out in the ‘plus’ and were able to bank some money. We’re hoping to get it back to where we were (before the pandemic), and even better than we were before.”

Volunteers ‘prepared and ready’ for visitors after being ‘blindsided’ in 2022

Museum volunteers were “blindsided” by the influx of visitors they received from the American Empress riverboat’s east Clark County tours last summer, according to volunteer Richard Johnson.

“When the tours first started, it was a challenge,” Godtlibsen said. “We were getting about 100 (visitors) a day at first. That’s more than we usually get in a year.”

But they are now “prepared and ready” after “getting the bugs worked out,” he added.

“We had volunteers that came just for (the boat visitors), and we had stations throughout the museum so there were people in all the main areas,” said volunteer Karen Johnson. “The (volunteers) learned their part, what they needed (to do). We said, ‘You don’t have to learn anything. Just be here, be pleasant, make it good for the people to come through.’ They did a fantastic job, so that’s probably the way we’ll continue this next year, too. It seemed to work really well.”

American Queen Voyages, the Empress’ parent company, compensates the museum for admission fees and docent time, assistance that “has helped a lot,” Richard Johnson said.

“And it was wonderful to have (the American Empress visitors) and the positive input that they had about this museum,” Beyer added. “They were blown away. We didn’t get any complaints. It was just a wonderful experience to have them. It got us all excited about the potential.”

In 2022, volunteers worked to digitize the museum’s vast photograph collection, which highlights East Clark County life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for the Two Rivers Heritage Museum Photographs Collection a collaborative project between the Clark County Historical Museum, the Washington State University-Vancouver Library and Two Rivers Heritage Museum, funded by Clark County’s Historical Promotion Grants (HPG) program.

They’re now working to digitize the museum’s collection of oral history recordings with the assistance of an HPG grant.

The museum has about 300 recordings of former Camas and Washougal residents “telling their life stories,” Godtlibsen said.

“(That) is sorely needed, very much, because we can’t preserve them,” Richard Johnson said. “All the mediums we’ve been using — cassette tapes, floppy disks — deteriorate. The beauty of this is, once that information is digitized and available online, like the photos, you’ll be able to go online and listen to them.”

The museum will open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday through the end of October. Admission costs $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $2 for students, and is free for visitors age 5 and younger as well as for members of the Camas-Washougal Historical Society. For more information, visit 2rhm.com.