Submitted by John Larson
When you plan a trip to the Pacific Ocean or Olympics, leave an extra hour to pause at Grays Harbor’s Polson Museum. Situated just in time for a get-out-the-wiggles break, the Polson is one of Western Washington’s historical gems—a substantive museum whose combination of expansive grounds, grand buildings, and eclectic collections rewards those who stop there.
The Polson’s centerpiece is the sprawling 26-room mansion that has served as the principal history museum for Grays Harbor County since it was founded in 1976. The 6,500 square foot colonial revival styled home was constructed in 1924 for Arnold and Priscilla Polson, heirs to the logging firm that Arnold’s father Alex and uncle Robert founded in 1891. The Polson Logging Company and its accompanying sawmills produced the lumber that built the home, including what is arguably its most impressive design feature – full length vertically sawn hemlock flooring that extends up to 40 feet at the widest points of the building. Architecturally, the home hasn’t been altered since its construction and still sports the millwork, light fixtures, windows and other old-home bling that will delight all who appreciate such detail.
While the Polson makes no attempt to be an historic house museum, those who appreciate such places will enjoy exploring the 17 rooms that are open to tour. Rare photographs that were taken during the Polson’s residency are displayed throughout the home and present a detailed glimpse of this privileged family’s furnishings and décor. Though the servants’ quarters now serve as archival processing and storage space, this wing of the home above the garages is a testament to the time when hired live-in help was a must for a wealthy family of four in the 1920s.
The mansion today provides a fine backdrop for exhibits that bring Grays Harbor history to life. Though most visitors start their self-guided tour through the first floor rooms, some head to the second floor immediately, particularly kids. Apparently, the pull of the 160 square foot HO gauge model logging railroad “kid magnet” is strong. Beyond this intricately detailed working model and accompanying logging exhibit, the full master suite space provides a look at the once gritty life in the Harbor’s sawmilling communities. In contrast, the suite’s large dressing room with a river view will make anyone envious who struggles to find closet space. The second floor’s numerous other rooms are equally rich with historical photographs and artifacts that offer insight into Grays Harbor’s story. One of the Polson daughter’s rooms is devoted as a children’s exhibit – the showpiece here is the custom-built dollhouse made for the Polson girls by the builder of the mansion.
Outside, the Polson’s park grounds offer places to picnic in the shade of grand old trees or take in the beauty of the colorful and fragrant Burton Ross Rose Garden. The hillside trail leads visitors to overlooks of Hoquiam’s downtown and north end as well as an up-close view of the town’s last living old-growth fir tree – fully 6 ½ feet in diameter.
Though the Polson’s most ambitious project is currently a work-in-progress, Railroad Camp is open to tour as work continues to develop a comprehensive exhibit on the Harbor’s logging and sawmilling history. The camp’s towering Locomotive Shop is a 3,400 square foot replica of the Polson Logging Company’s own shop, which was located 15 miles north of Hoquiam to service the company’s fleet of steam engines. Our new building retains the material and aesthetic characteristics of the original and was built to exhibit and preserve an impressive and unique collection of big iron from the Harbor’s lumbering heyday. Highlights include a 1933 Linn halftrack, 1948 Hyster lumber carrier, 1929 Prescott bandsaw, and the Hoquiam-built 1932 Lamb SpeedTrak (which, notably, carries what we believe to be the largest log exhibited anywhere indoors – a massive 28,000 lb., 550-year-old Douglas fir).
The Polson Museum invites you to explore, experience, and celebrate Grays Harbor’s history on your next trip west. There’s so much here to be captivated by and we think you’ll agree the museum has something for everyone to enjoy.
The Polson Museum is located at 1611 Riverside Avenue in Hoquiam (on northbound US 101 as it passes along the Hoquiam River) and is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 11 to 4 and Sundays 12 to 4. Admission to the grounds, garden and Railroad Camp building is free. Admission to the main museum is $4 for adults, $2 students, $1 kids under 12, or $10 for a family of any size.
More information can be found by visiting www.polsonmuseum.org or by calling 360.533.5862.