If you have driven out to Grays Harbor, chances are that you have seen the sign saying that the region is “Lumber Capital of the World.” While almost everyone knows that the timber industry and Grays Harbor County go hand in hand, few know just how deep the connection goes, and how rich that history is and why the town of Aberdeen deserves the moniker.
The timber of the region now known as Grays Harbor has been sought after for centuries, with explorers and conquering forces hoping to take control of the towering resources that scrape the sky. When the British first explored this area, they are rumored to have said that whoever controls these forests will rule the world. Within four generations of the initial “discovery” of Grays Harbor by Captain Robert Gray, Aberdeen become the largest lumber town in the world.
With direct access to the Pacific Ocean, Aberdeen was said to be the busiest port on America’s West Coast and there is little reason to doubt this claim. While Grays Harbor was the lumber capital of the world, today the remnants of the logging industry are barely noticeable. To preserve the past glory of the region, there are a handful of museums where the incredible history of logging can be explored. From the coast to the cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, the logging museums of Grays Harbor will have you inundated with impressive pictures, actual logging machinery and even buildings from the county’s logging heyday. These three museums that showcase Grays Harbor’s logging history should be visited by locals and visitors alike.
Aberdeen Museum of History
The Aberdeen Museum of History is a fun place to learn more about the history of the region and the importance of the timber industry. With old pictures, large exhibits and extremely knowledgeable staff, all of your regional questions can be answered here. Showcasing life over the past century in the region, the museum is known for its great picture collection. Their photo collection is partially online in their digital darkroom, where impressive old images of the logging industry can be explored from the comforts of your own home. The Aberdeen Museum of History is a great rainy day visit and a good place to start to reconnect with the heritage of Grays Harbor.
Aberdeen Museum of History
111 E 3rd Street, Aberdeen
Tuesday-Saturday: 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
Museum of the North Beach
Out along the coast, a smaller, yet equally quirky museum to explore is the Museum of the North Beach in Moclips. While small, the museum is hard to miss, thanks to a colorful and noticeable collection of floats resting on the outside of the structure. The museum typically takes less than an hour or so to wander, but in that time the pictures and exhibits will let you see a side of life in the region not found anywhere else. Highlighting 100 years of Moclips history, you’ll learn about huge storms, shipwrecks, the Quinault tribe and – of course – logging. Looking at the pictures and reading the informational displays, you’ll have a better insight and appreciation of the struggles of day to day life for the people of the region.
Museum of North Beach
4658 WA-109, Moclips
Hours vary by season. Can also call to arrange a special appointment: 360-276-4441
Finally, the most visible and most visited museum in Grays Harbor is the Polson Museum. The name Polson is one of the most successful logging names in Grays Harbor, and half of the museum resides in the family’s old mansion. The other half of the museum sits across the property, in the Railroad Camp building. In the mansion, 15,000 items – including photographs, antiques, equipment and texts – give a perfect view into the past. The photographs are especially incredible, covering every aspect of life in the region, with a good emphasis on logging. The logging history spills across the property to the aforementioned Railroad Camp Building, which was designed to showcase the aesthetic, original materials and functional qualities of a century-old locomotive shed. The stunning building is a labor of love and skilled craftsmanship, with the interior full of restored and historic heavy-machinery, part of Polson’s extensive collection. This museum might take you a few hours to explore in its entirety, as you’ll be dazzled by the stunning displays.
611 Riverside Avenue, Hoquiam
Wednesday-Saturday: 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
In the logging museums of Grays Harbor, you’ll get a great glimpse of what life used to be like out here, but don’t stop your inquisitive nature once you walk out the door. Once you have a good grasp of the history and culture, signs of logging history are around almost every corner. Throughout the county, old logging buildings and mills rest, while roads into the forests don the names of the logging companies that made this the lumber capital of the world.
When heading to the old growth forests of Olympic National Park and Forest, you’ll pass by pilings rising from the rivers, where thousands of logs would make their way downstream. Today, the pilings are nothing more than resting spots for eagles, cormorants or blue herons, but with your new-found knowledge, you’ll see the harbor through new eyes. You’ll see logging, intertwined with conservation and wilderness, uniquely combined that make Grays Harbor a fascinating place to visit. Stay at a seaside hotel and soak up a weekend of history that you and your family won’t soon forget.