Steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie must have approved the re-purposing of his Anacortes legacy … because he personally greets each visitor to the library-turned-museum in this historic Washington community.
Okay, so the life-size Mr. Carnegie is only a mural. After all, he died in 1919, less than a decade after the library he financed was built here. But it’s a good bet he would approve of the transitional role of his building from library to museum, because the building continues to serve a community and its guests free of charge.
Carnegie wasn’t intimately involved with the design of his libraries, but he did endorse the idea of creating a “grand entrance” to these community learning centers. Even a “drive by” to see this beautifully restored turn-of-the-century building would be worthwhile, but any excursion to this classic Northwest seaside community is sweetened with a visit to see the treasures inside.
Since its role change in 1968, those who climb the 18 front steps to the Anacortes Museum “ascend” to a place where words and history continue to be celebrated. As noted, colorful murals of Carnegie and the library’s first librarian greet visitors at the top of the main entrance stairway. Start your visit by examining these Bill Mitchell murals closely. See the stories painstakingly printed up and down the length of the historic art pieces.
Inside you will discover an inviting display area illuminated by natural light from sides and ceiling. A wonderful renovation inspired by Museum Director Steve Oakley brought light again through tall windows that had for years been painted or boarded up. Sunlight also bathes the room from an overhead skylight that was part of the original design.
Guests to the museum are greeted by a docent: one of seven museum staff members working under the umbrella of Anacortes city government.
The initial decision is where to start your adventure: to the right for a stroll through the core exhibit, or to the left through a simple maze of displays in the featured exhibit created under the theme, “All in the Same Boat.” Yet another display titled “Anacortes Presents,” features memorabilia lent to the museum by a local organization, in this case a quilting group.
Whether you choose the self-guided tour or lean on your docent for answers to your questions, you will enjoy a step back in history with display elements ranging from photographs, clippings and narrative to “real life” artifacts such as farm and forest tools, art pieces, clothing and toys.
Sit in a wooden telephone booth that once served customers in a Rexall drug store. Glimpse into a fully furnished business office such as was found at one of many local canneries. See a pump organ and imagine the music filling the parlor of a prominent family. Imagine the sound and motion of a water-powered washing machine.
Anacortes Museum, 1305 8th Street, is just two blocks from the downtown commercial area; one block from the unique, European inspired Causland Memorial Park. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Visit their website for more information.
The museum has a handicap lift. Also, should your curiosity be piqued, and time runs short, this museum boasts a website teeming with opportunities. Thanks to the generosity of Anacortes native and retired photojournalist Wallie Funk, for example, the website features tens of thousands of local images. In addition to providing historic vignettes, staff members can assist with research projects. Included on site are newspaper archives.
originally written on January 21st, 2015 by Steve Berentson