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 after 50 years 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 is worthwhile, but any excursion to this classic Northwest seaside community is sweetened with a visit to see the treasures inside. A courtyard celebration recently marked the role change of the building from library to museum in 1968. It has been 60 years since establishment of the Anacortes Museum of History Board in August 1958. 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 museum visit by examining these murals closely. See the stories artist Bill Mitchell 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 former 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 several 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, “At Home in Anacortes.” Yet another display titled “Anacortes Presents” features memorabilia lent to the museum by local residents, in this case collectors of old radios and turntables. This feature allows members of the community opportunity to share relevant artifacts on a temporary basis.
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. And don’t pass up the guest-friendly shop on the west side of the front entry, where inventory ranges from picture postcards to books, many written by local historians and published by the museum.
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 the city museum website for more information.
The museum features a handicap lift. Also, should your curiosity be piqued, and time runs short, this museum boasts a website teeming with exploration 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; updated July 2018