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Remembering our past |

Remembering our past

If you believe, as Spanish philosopher and writer George Santayana once famously said, that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” we have some good news for you: Learning the history of the Camas-Washougal area and its people, businesses and culture has never been easier.

The very first place you should start — especially if you’ve never visited before or if it’s been a while since your school field trip days — is the Two Rivers Heritage Museum in Washougal.

Run by a dedicated group of volunteers from the Camas-Washougal Historical Society (CWHS), the museum is a treasure chest of historical artifacts, photographs and stories.

“The museum is where history lives in Camas and Washougal,” CWHS President Jim Cobb recently said. “Our community has so much to be proud of in this museum.”

A week after the museum reopened for its March-through-October season, Cobb, along with CWHS Vice President Alma Jemtegaard Ladd and founding member Bernice Pluchos, led a tour through the museum’s web of rooms: each with its own story to tell.

In one room, a display of antique medical supplies highlights Washougal’s (and the territory of Washington’s) first doctor — Dr. Louisa Wright, a woman who died after a tragic horse accident.

“They say her husband may have done something to the horse … to make it kick her!” whispers one of the historians, who obviously knows unsolved mysteries are a key to most reporters’ hearts. “But they couldn’t prove it.”

Nearby, stands a collection of antique instruments, including a recently restored piano that came to Washougal in the 1880s via a ship that navigated around the tip of South America to get to the then-remote West Coast of the United States.

Sunlight filters through a series of stained glass art windows showing highlights of Camas-Washougal history, including the Camas lily with Mount Hood in the background and timber workers felling an old-growth giant.

A very rare artifact, an intact butter churn — made in Kentucky and brought to the area in 1848 on an Oregon Trail buggy — stands next to the “School Days” display, meant to resemble the type of rural, one-room schoolhouse found in Camas-Washougal during the late 1800s.

From the “School Days” display, visitors enter a series of rooms that highlight the more domesticated side of Camas-Washougal history. The museum even has a working loom and spinning wheel in one of these rooms; a kitchen stocked with mid- 20th century appliances and kitchen accessories in another; and a photography display showing the people who made Camas-Washougal what it is today. Outside, in the “Tool Shed,” antique tools used by early Camas-Washougal residents, farmers, blacksmiths and mill workers line the walls and share space with antique wooden water pipes from the 17th Street bridge in Washougal and a giant wooden prune dryer that would have helped dry the prunes collected from Camas’ Prune Hill.

During the museum’s four-month hibernation period, volunteers cleaned the displays, reorganized the research room and expanded a display highlighting local veterans of war.

“Once again, we had a busy winter during the museum closure,” Cobb said. “The major change is the reorganization of the Research Room to make it more user friendly for people doing family history and other historic research.”

The museum’s front room holds some of the most valuable and fascinating pieces — Native American artifacts and handwoven baskets donated by a local ancestor of Washougal’s first permanent settlers, English seaman Richard Ough and his wife, White Wing “Betsy” Ough, the daughter of a Cascades Native American chief named Schluyhus.

Historical Society members are dedicated to increasing the museum’s array of Native American artifacts and retelling the stories of the area’s first people.

Now in its 40th year, the museum has never slowed down, Cobb says.

“We’re always growing,” he says. “And we are always looking for more volunteers to help us.”

Currently, the historical society members are raising money to build “The Gathering Place at Washuxwal,” an outdoor, Native American-inspired pavilion that will stand next to the Washougal museum and host educational and cultural programs to, as Cobb says, help “the stories of our area unfold.”

“It will be a beautiful and impressive space to present even more history to our visitors,” Cobb says of the planned Gathering Place. CWHS members have already raised more than $40,000 of the estimated $250,000 total cost and Cobb says they are applying for grants, and the building project recently received a grant from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest.

Members of the historical society will be on hand to talk about the museum, show artifacts, and discuss The Gathering Place at Washuxwal at the “Spring into History” themed First Friday event in downtown Camas, from 5 to 8 p.m., Friday, April 6. Look for historical society members in the lobby of Journey Community Church that evening. For more information about the museum, the historical society or the planned Gathering Place, visit

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