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A visit to the Bowman Museum

The museum is a great place to visit, especially on days when the weather isnt great for outdoor adventures


On a chilly, windy and/or rainy day when you want to get out of the house, here’s a suggestion – the Bowman Museum.

My brother and his family were visiting recently and we enjoyed a hike to Chimney Rock on a nice day. However, the next day the weather wasn’t as cooperative so we decided to head to the museum. This was my first visit there since the new Crook County History Center was completed in 2011. by: SCOTT STAATS SPECIAL TO THE CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The authors nephews, Quinn (LEFT) and Nolan Staats, sawing away in the timber exhibit.

“Before this, all we had was the space in the old museum, which wasn’t enough space to have presentations or visiting school classes,” said Gordon Gillespie, the museum’s director.

He said they’d have to do these presentations out on the sidewalk. Plus, they were jammed-packed with items from their collection. They started thinking about expanding the museum back in the 1990s so what better place than right beside the original building.

Besides all the space for new exhibits there is now climate-controlled storage, more work space for staff and volunteers, plus a research library where people can do genealogy and history research. The large community room is very popular with groups, with bookings about three times a week for evenings.

“We want to teach people the history of Crook County,” explained Gillespie. “We focus on what we call living traditions. There’s a history of ranching for example but there’s also a lifestyle that continues today, so we also want to teach them about present-day Crook County.”

Gillespie estimates the museum receives approximately 10,000 visitors per year. He thinks that about 75 percent of those are people passing through the area.

One entire wall of the new center is referred to as the Western Gallery, and the title of the exhibit in it right now is Living Traditions. It highlights the Native American presence past and present as well as ranching and farming past and present. One section is called Women’s Work that highlights the contribution of women to agriculture and the rural life. There’s a section about timber and one about Les Schwab, both of which had major impacts on the community.

The first building on the site of the present museum, at the corner of Third and Main Streets, was a one-story wooden building constructed in 1883 and first used as a drug store. In 1901 this building was replaced by a large two-story wooden building known as Belknap Hall. In 1908, this building was moved to West 2nd and Claypool Streets and used as a lodge hall by the I.O.O.F. until its demolition in 1972. by: SCOTT STAATS SPECIAL TO THE CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The dreaded tonsillectomy chair .

The present-day museum building was constructed in 1910 by the Crook County Bank, using stone blocks from a local quarry located just west of Ochoco Viewpoint -- the same stone that was used to build the historic Crook County Courthouse a year earlier. The building operated as the Crook County Bank for 22 years, from 1912 to 1923, and later by the Bank of Prineville and Prineville National Bank. In 1935 the building was purchased by A. R. Bowman and was home to his title and loan business as well as his insurance business.

The A. R. Bowman Memorial Museum opened in 1971 and is operated by the Crook County Historical Society. It is the only building in the county where its interior remains much the same as when first constructed. In 1991 the original museum building was entered on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1996 it hosted the first Smithsonian exhibit in Central Oregon and in 1997 it won national recognition from the Institute of Museum Services.

There are beautiful marble counters, bronze teller cages, etched art glass, mahogany paneling and gilt and alabaster chandeliers. There’s even an old safe that still holds many old ledgers and other early records. The display cases and many of the display items were donated by local pioneer families. On the second floor there are display rooms that include a dining room, bedroom, tack room, and a re-creation of the Paulina store and post office. And last but not least is the newly revamped Medical Exhibit. Just looking at the tonsillectomy chair and the related medical devices makes me thankful for modern technology.

Scott Staats is a freelance outdoor writer. His column can be read every Friday in the Central Oregonian. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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