Located in Astoria, Oregon near the mouth of the Columbia River, the Columbia River Maritime Museum showcases the largest collection of artifacts related to the maritime industry of the Pacific Northwest, featuring a variety of interactive exhibits and offering public workshops and event programming.
The Columbia River Maritime Museum Association was created in 1962 to oversee the development of a museum to house the collection of local maritime artifact collector Rolf Klep. Following a major fundraising campaign, the Association acquired the former Old Astoria City Hall building, formerly owned by the Oregon Military Department. The museum was opened to the public in August of 1963 and quickly gained a reputation as one of the foremost museums in Oregon, becoming the state’s first museum to receive national accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. Throughout the early 1970s, the museum’s collections quickly outgrew its City Hall building location, and a new fundraising campaign was begun for the purposes of developing a new location at the city’s waterfront area, which would allow it to encompass several historic ships docked along the city’s shores. Construction on the new facility began in 1975, and in 1982, the new 37,000-square-foot museum was opened to the public. In 2001, a major renovation project was announced in honor of the museum’s 40th anniversary, adding an additional 5,200 square feet of exhibit space.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
Today, the Columbia River Maritime Museum is operated as a nonprofit organization, funded by the contributions of visitor admissions and private donors. As the official maritime museum of the state of Oregon, the museum is nationally recognized as a leader in maritime museums for its unique, interactive, and comprehensive exhibits. Since its 1963 opening, the museum’s all-donation collection has grown to encompass more than 30,000 objects related to the history of boating and the maritime industry in the Pacific Northwest. 33,000 photographs and 12,500 volumes are also contained within the museum’s Ted Natt Library, which is open to the public on Mondays and Wednesdays and available to researchers and students by appointment.
A variety of interactive exhibits are offered throughout the museum, allowing visitors to climb aboard several ships, including the Lightship Columbia, the first Oregon ship to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. As a floating lighthouse, the Columbia operated along the Columbia River from 1951 to 1979 and is now open daily for tours with museum admission. Other ships on display in the museum and along the waterfront include the Peacock bar pilot ship, two United States Coast Guard motor lifeboats, and the bridge from the WWII-era Destroyer-class USS Knapp. Permanent exhibits allow visitors to participate in a simulated Coast Guard rescue and experience the height of the salmon fishing era in Astoria. A short orientation film, The Great River of the West, focuses on the plight of bar pilots working in the dangerous conditions of the Columbia River Bar. A number of temporary rotating exhibits have also showcased aspects of Pacific Northwest climate and ecosystems, including Science of Storms: The Extraordinary Weather of the Pacific Northwest and Hurricane 3D, and topics related to the area’s participation in American military conflicts, including A Peaceful Return: The Story of the Yosegaki Hinomaru and USS Shark Cannon.
Ongoing Programs and Education
In addition to the facility’s main exhibits, the Barbey Maritime Center, opened in 2013, serves as a center for boat building and historic preservation efforts and public programming, including classes, workshops, and demonstrations. Housed within the former Astoria Railroad Depot building adjacent to the museum, the Center offers 6,000 square feet of multipurpose space focused around the craft of boat building and its history and role within the culture of the Astoria area. A variety of courses are offered to the public, including courses taught in conjunction with Clatsop Community College. All boat building courses emphasize both European and Native American boat building techniques and are available for participants of all skill levels.
Group tours of the museum are offered for groups of 10 or more, including 90-minute curriculum-incorporated tours for elementary and secondary school student groups. Learning lab programs are offered for student groups, allowing themed exploration of museum exhibits and group workshop activities related to STEM principles and maritime concepts. A traveling trunk program also brings museum collections directly into the classroom, and a traveling museum educator series brings themed content related to Oregon history and aquatic ecosystems into classrooms. All educational programs are supported through the Quest for Truth Foundation and incorporate national Common Core curriculum standards. Self-guided educational tours for school groups may also be scheduled, with educational materials provided for participants upon request.
1792 Marine Dr, Astoria, OR 97103, Phone: 503-325-2323