“Maybe not a gas station… but always a museum.”

Last week I paid a visit to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma to give Erich Ebel a preview of the Washington State Insider app, which is set to launch by mid-June. Erich is the Marketing and Communications Director for the Washington State Historical Society, who manages the History Museum. They have agreed to give discounted admission to Washington State Insider app users who have collected points by visiting historic places around the state.

Erich had just returned from a whirlwind trip around the state, passing through many of the same places that my family and I plan to visit during our ProjectWA summer tour. After visiting dozens of small towns across Western and Eastern Washington, Erich was struck by the one thing they all had in common. “Every town, no matter how small, has a museum,” he said. “Maybe not a gas station or a stoplight, but always a museum.”

WA State History Museum

Erich is absolutely right about this. My home, Lopez Island, with a population of only 2,400, has no stoplights or sidewalks. But it has a great museum. This phenomenon makes a statement about the priorities of smaller communities; and it is why, according to Erich, “people are gravitating toward heritage tourism.”

Museums of all sizes are critical to reminding us of our history. If our cultural heritage is to be preserved, though, we need more than museums to curb the advances of shorter-term commercial interests that can be antithetical to historic preservation. In Woodinville, the City Council wants to tear down the town’s original schoolhouse to make room for a parking garage. In Kent, the last barn standing – representing the area’s agricultural roots – will likely be torn down if the City Council’s current plan to widen the Green River is implemented. During my trip last week I visited both the Woodinville Schoolhouse and the Dvorak Barn in Kent. Losing them would be a massive loss for each community.

Endangered_Properties_2016

Left: Rick Chatterton, Board President, Woodinville Heritage Society | Right: Nancy and Chuck Simpson, long-time Kent residents

The groups fighting for the protection of these endangered properties are not necessarily advocating for keeping these old buildings in their original state. They recognize that economies, industries and demographics change. Instead of creating relics that have no apparent use in today’s communities, they would like to see these buildings preserved and used as community gathering places of some kind. History and modern life don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

It is this integration of yesterday and today that is driving the development of the Washington State Insider app. 80% of Americans walk around with smartphones today. Let’s find a way to capitalize on that trend in a way that helps raise awareness of and preserves our cultural heritage.

Over the next week, students from Lopez Island Middle School will be posting stories about the Most Endangered Properties of Washington State that they want to see preserved. Those places, along with nearly 70 other locations around the state, will also be found in the Washington State Insider app, available for iPhones and Android devices.

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