The History Museum of Hood River County staff and volunteers have been stirring up a lot of dust over the last several weeks. By Christmas the museum will be pretty much empty; artifacts packed and stored in boxes, cabinets cleared and removed, pictures and displays pulled off the walls … no item left unturned.
Bringing more than 100 years of Hood River County history into the 21st century is a lot of work, but when the museum reopens in the summer, that's where it will be.
Most of the same exhibits and artifacts will be back on display, but after a several-month renovation project, the layout will be different, the space will be larger and each of the many thousands of items will have a new place in the museum's digital archives.
"We're expecting a new, fresh feeling to the museum," said Director Connie Nice. "We will feature many of the same stories and artifacts that have been a part of the museum for years, but the stories will be told and displayed in a new, fresh way."
Before renovations can get started in January, everything in the museum had to be packed and stored -- much of it off-site. During that process, museum staff took on the daunting task of adding every artifact in the building to a digital archive system. Items ranging in size and shape from butter churns and 120-year-old hand tools to sock dolls and mini-busts of past presidents were photographed and added to a computerized database. Each item is archived with a picture, number, description and keywords attached to them. The database -- which Nice hopes will be made public in the future -- can be explored according to keywords, allowing someone to search for and see pictures of anything the museum has.
"During this process we've found things we never knew were here, and things we heard were here but couldn't find," Nice said. "There was a lot of stuff in boxes, drawers and cabinets that haven't been taken out for a long time. This process has brought us closer than we've ever been to having an accurate idea of what exactly is in our entire collection."
Nice said the roughly $400,000 renovation project is funded by grants, community donations and contributions. It won't change the footprint of the building much, but the inside will see extensive changes. Staff offices and work areas will be moved upstairs, and the courtyard in the center of the building will be enclosed and turned into additional gallery space. The front entrance will also be remodeled to create a more welcoming face to the museum. Additional features like new insulation and HVAC system will help make the facility more comfortable and efficient.
"If all goes as planned, we're expecting to be done and moved back in sometime in late spring or early summer in time for the busy tourism season," Nice said. "While construction is going on we'll be working on a new layout and design for the museum so that we can move back in and open as quickly as possible."
Interested in helping the museum transition? Nice said volunteers will be needed throughout the process. She said, "There will be plenty of opportunities to lend a hand, and the more things we can do with volunteers, the less we have to spend paying someone to do it."
To volunteer or for more information, contact Volunteer Coordinator Casey Houson at 541-386-6772 or e-mail thmvolunteer.com.