There are many wonderful things to do in Bandon, some indulgent like a tasty meal at Pacific Blues, some educational like a tour of Washed Ashore, some active like hiking, biking, or horseback riding, and some cultural like a play at the Bandon Playhouse. One of the most interesting, and perhaps one of the most important for understanding Bandon and its people, is a slow and contemplative walk through the Bandon History Museum.
Nicknamed “The Best Little Museum in Oregon,” the Bandon History Museum is full to the rafters of themed collections telling the many stories of our historically rich town. Visitors will learn about Bandon’s important past and present industries such as logging, dairy farming, fishing, cranberry farming, cheese making, and golf. Photos, maps, newspaper articles, a timeline, and personal stories bring to life the horror of the 1936 fire and the hope and hard work that went into the town’s rebuilding. Displays also teach about the native people of the South Coast and help identify the flora and fauna of the area. The personal side of life throughout the years is shown through items related to domestic life, medicine, schools, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
Many of the collections at the Bandon History Museum are permanent; visitors can count on finding the same interesting items regardless of when they visit. Some, however, are organized for special events. For example, there is currently a special display on the Masonic Temple considering its recent addition to the National Historical Registry.
The Bandon History Museum has an interesting history of its own. The building in which it currently resides was one of the first built after the 1936 fire to serve as the temporary headquarters of the fire and police departments, City Hall, and the library. Like most buildings erected after the fire, it was never intended to be a permanent building as the plan for rebuilding was that “the master city” was to be built up on the hill. As a result, it and many other Old Town buildings are built directly on the ground with no foundation. The cannon sitting in the foyer of the museum is sitting on the only piece of concrete in the building to prevent it from falling through the floor.
The Bandon Historical Society was founded in 1976 during the bicentennial year when much of the country was thinking about its history. The museum first opened in the old Masonic Hall (one of the few buildings to survive the 1936 fire), later moved to the Coast Guard building, and then in 1996 to its current location which, after housing the temporary City Hall in the 30s, became a bar called Old City Hall with a “troubled reputation.” Made possible with urban renewal funds, the city sold the building to the Bandon History Museum for a nominal cost.
The items in the museum are all donated by individuals and families with items of historical value. Many came from families who helped found the museum nearly 40 years ago, and as people go through their attics and storage spaces and find interesting items, they continue to send their findings to the museum.
The Bandon History Museum regularly sees visitors from all over the country and world. Knowing that it’s one of the best ways to understand a town they are passing through, people from places like England, Ireland (including Bandon, Ireland, of course), and Australia as well as the American Midwest and the Rogue and Willamette Valleys make it a point to peruse the collections when they visit Bandon. Residents also visit the museum, some regularly, as a way to stay connected with the history and culture of their home.
One of the attractions of the museum is, of course, the gift shop. It may look small, but the gift shop is full of interesting and fun items of local importance, including historical books, books by local authors, and prints of old photographs. One can also find typical gift items such as postcards, mugs, t-shirts, playing cards, and coasters.
The museum is funded by grants, donations, memberships, and admissions. The board has also wisely invested in a Sustainability Fund which will help finance larger future projects. With only two part-time paid employees, volunteers are critical to the museum’s functioning. They have enough to keep the doors open daily in the summer and 6 days a week during the off-season, but they are always looking for more.
The museum can use more than your time, however. President of the museum’s board of directors, Dean Conyers, said, “We would like everybody’s story to be here. And we’d like everybody in the community to find a way to leave a little something of themselves in here.” When individuals, businesses, and churches leave photos (with names and dates written on the back), literature, or even just a written story of their part of the community, it will someday be hung on the walls or displayed on tables as part of Bandon’s history.
Bandon History Museum
Open Monday-Saturday in the off-season and 7 days a week in the summer, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Admission: $3 for adults, children are free
Annual memberships: $15 for individual, $25 for family
270 Fillmore Ave. (Fillmore and Highway 101)
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