WASHOUGAL – In the lowlands and vast prairie beside the Columbia River sits the Two Rivers Heritage Museum, an unassuming treasure that showcases the history of eastern Clark County.
The seemingly small building becomes expansive as soon as visitors step through the front door. Clippings and framed photos cover most of the interior walls. Its various rooms contain family and property registers, instruments, mining and forestry relics, pioneer kitchen utensils and military items.
There’s even a letter that astronaut Michael Reed Barratt took to the cosmic realm and back down to Earth.
Each element of the museum has a unique history and connection to the Chinook people, settlers and current residents of Camas and Washougal.
Couple Jim Cobb, president of the Camas Washougal Historical Society, and volunteer coordinator Lois Cobb view the collection as a passionate project aimed at preserving and showcasing the area’s rich history.
“We are a heritage museum, which means we are a people museum,” Lois Cobb said.
All museum artifacts and archival information were contributed by members of the community, and they reflect both the fascinating and mundane aspects of life lived in eastern Clark County.
Members of the community come to the museum, located at 1 Durgan St. in Washougal, to learn about their ancestors and their homes – or just to look at vintage photographs.
The organization’s volunteers are digitizing its collection, which highlights life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“We would like to think of ourselves more as keepers (of history) than as working volunteers,” Jim Cobb said.
To enhance the museum’s storytelling capabilities in combination with its exhibits, the historical society has dedicated funds to create spaces honoring Indigenous culture in the area. Most notable, Jim Cobb said, was the construction of the Gathering Place at Washuxwal, a long structure featuring wood carvings that commemorate local tribes and their stories.
Future plans include hosting educational displays in its pavilion to share stories and enlighten visitors about the area’s early inhabitants.
A fiery start
The Camas Washougal Historical Society formed in 1978 to protect a historic building in Parkers Landing, which quickly succumbed to flames from an arsonist that nearly destroyed many of the artifacts inside. The group members salvaged what they could, be it bricks or tools.
In 1981, the historical society’s first museum was in the basement of a local library which quickly filled with items donated by Clark County residents. The surplus of artifacts led to the need for more space, which led the organization to move to a building that would safely contain the area’s history.
The museum, which operates purely from fundraising and tourism, halted general admissions during the pandemic and spent the time updating its existing exhibits. A team of guides is always on hand to offer tours for groups of eight or more Monday through Saturday. Group tours can be arranged by calling 360-835-5449.
Tours are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $2 for students. General admission will be available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays from March to October. For more information on museum hours, events and membership opportunities, visit www.2rhm.com.
“I wish our local residents here would take the time to come to our museum,” Lois Cobb said. “We are practically unknown to the people who live here. It looks like a small building, but it really isn’t.