If you drive west from Olympia far enough, you’ll see the “Lumber Capital of the World” sign as you enter Aberdeen. But do you know why the city was given that title? While it is common knowledge that the timber industry and Grays Harbor County go hand in hand, few know just how deep the connection was, and how rich that history still is.

When the British first explored this area, they are rumored to have said that whoever controls these forests will rule the world. Looking at the tall forests, it is little wonder why Grays Harbor was sought after for the towering resources that scraped the sky. Within a handful of generations after the initial “discovery” of Grays Harbor by Captain Robert Gray, Aberdeen had become the largest lumber town in the world. Direct access to the Pacific Ocean helped Aberdeen become the busiest port on America’s west coast, but that title didn’t last long. At one time Grays Harbor was the lumber capital of the world, but the remnants of the logging industry are just a shell of what they once were. To preserve the past glory of the region, there are a few museums where the incredible history of logging can be explored.

Polson Museum

Grays Harbor Logging History Polson Museum by John Llyoyd
Consisting of two buildings and housing over 15,000 historical artifacts, the Polson Museum in Hoquiam is one of the best logging museums in the country. Photo credit: John Lloyd

One of the most visible museums in Grays Harbor is the Polson Museum. The name “Polson” is one of the most successful logging names in Grays Harbor, with the half of the museum residing in their old mansion and the other half in the Railroad Camp building across the property. In the Mansion, there are over 15,000 photographs, antiques, equipment, and texts, each opening a window to the past. The photographs found here are especially incredible, covering every aspect of life, including the logging industry. In the aforementioned Railroad Camp Building, which was designed using original materials and functional qualities of a century-old locomotive shed, the stunning building is a labor of love and skilled craftsmanship. The inside is full of restored and historic heavy-machinery, part of Polson’s extensive collection. This museum will take you over an hour to explore, but you’ll be dazzled by the stunning displays.

Polson Museum
611 Riverside Ave, Hoquiam
Wednesday-Saturday: 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.

Museum of the North Beach

Grays Harbor Logging History Museum of the North Beach in Moclips WA
Found in the coastal community of Moclips, the Museum of the North Beach highlights all aspects of life in the area, including logging. Photo courtesy: The Outdoor Society

Out along the coast, a much smaller, yet equally fun museum to explore is the Museum of the North Beach in Moclips. Hard to miss, thanks to a colorful and noticeable collection of floats resting on the outside the structure, the small building packs numerous displays. The museum’s pictures and exhibits will show you a side of life in the region not found anywhere else. Highlighting 100 years of Moclips history, you’ll learn about huge storms, shipwrecks, the Quinault tribe and of course, logging. Looking at the pictures and reading the informational displays, you’ll glean a greater insight to the struggles of day to day life for the people of the region.

Museum of North Beach
4658 WA-109, Moclips
Hours vary by season. Can also call to arrange a special appointment: 360-276-4441

Aberdeen Museum of History

Grays Harbor Logging History Aberdeen Museum of History Postcard
The logging history of Grays Harbor is rich and full of history, visible today through a handful of museums around the region. Photo courtesy: Aberdeen Museum of History

Finally, the Aberdeen Museum of History is another fantastic destination to learn more about the importance of the timber industry. Showing over a centuries worth of displays, the museum is a nice place to stop and get one more dose of the logging history of Grays Harbor. Showing old pictures and large exhibits, presented by extremely knowledgeable staff, all of your questions can be answered here. The picture collection here is also fantastic, leaving you wanting to return here again and again. Their photo collection is partially online in their digital darkroom, where even more impressive old images of logging can be seen.  The Aberdeen Museum of History is a great rainy day visit, or a good place to start to reconnect with the rich heritage of Grays Harbor.

Aberdeen Museum of History
111 E 3rd St, Aberdeen
Tuesday-Saturday: 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.

In the museums, you’ll get a great glimpse of what life used to be like in Grays Harbor, but don’t stop your inquisitive nature once you walk out the door. All around the region, old logging buildings and mills sit, while streets don the names of the logging companies that made this the lumber capital of the world. When heading to the old growth forests of Olympic National Park and Forest, you’ll pass by pilings rising from the rivers, where thousands of logs would make their way downstream. Today, the pilings are nothing more than a resting spot for an eagle, cormorant or blue heron, but with your new found knowledge, you’ll see the harbor through the eyes of the past. You’ll see logging, intertwined with conservation and wilderness, uniquely combined to make Grays Harbor a fascinating place to visit. Stay at a seaside hotel and soak up a weekend of history that you and your family won’t soon forget.


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