Some people love history while others prefer it remain in the past. However, at the Baker Heritage Museum, history provides its visitors a gentle reminder of how Baker County and Baker City has developed since the early 1800’s.
Filled with thousands of artifacts, from large stage coaches and antique automobiles, to hundreds of rocks, minerals, fossils, antique weapons, and individual alcoves displaying the layout of how a room or a business in Baker County was furnished during the 1800’s, the Baker Heritage Museum is a living time capsule for the human imagination.
Although the museum has description cards that are displayed next to most of its exhibits, the most valuable information comes from talking to volunteers who know the history of Baker County better than anyone. Steve Bogart is one of those people.
On June 21, Bogart gave me a 30-minute guided tour inside the Baker Heritage Museum and provided detailed information about its most popular exhibits, including the museum’s famous and extensive rock and fossil collection, which attracts rock hounds and geologists from all over the world.
Bogart also explained how the Homestead Act helped to encourage and establish European immigrants in Baker County and Baker City during the 1800’s. During that time, gold mining, farming and harvesting timber were the most popular forms of economic development and revenue for Baker County.
These activities attracted a wide range of people from China, Norway, Sweden, Germany and other countries who left their homes in search of a better life in the United States. The most popular and well-know immigrant culture to arrive in Baker City during the 1800’s were the Chinese.
The Chinese who arrived in Oregon were searching for their own unique place in Baker County and established many specialty shops and laundry services in Baker City. They also performed a lot of labor during the gold mining industry in Baker County and built walls, tunnels and ditches to help improve the quality of life for the area.
During the 1800’s, Baker City had a network of underground tunnels which the Chinese would frequently use to walk from one side of Baker City to the other. Many of them could not walk among other European immigrants on the streets because of racial segregation during that time.
After Bogart guided me upstairs to the second floor of the Baker Heritage Museum, he showed me a dozen individual alcoves. Each alcove displayed the furnished layout of a unique room or business in Baker County or Baker City during the 1800’s.
Some of the many rooms or businesses I saw include an old schoolhouse, a country grocery store, an optometrist office, a lawyer’s office, a pharmacy store, a laundry store, a toy store and a store called the Crystal Palace which sold Bibles, lamps, glass items, umbrellas and silverware.
The parents of Leo Adler owned the Crystal Palace. Leo Adler was born and raised in Baker City and became one of the town’s most cherished and popular philanthropists. There is a separate museum in Baker City called the Leo Adler Museum to help preserve, honor and remember the life of Mr. Adler.
Another prominent Oregonian who was born in Baker City, and left behind a positive legacy in society, was Wally Byam, the inventor of the Airstream Trailer. There is a separate alcove in the museum dedicated to the life and legacy of Mr. Byam.
After showing me the different alcoves, Bogart guided me into a huge ballroom with a wooden floor that displayed several more alcoves.
These alcoves include the display of a home kitchen in 1890 and a separate display of a home kitchen in 1920. There was also a display of a typical home bathroom in 1890, which included an old fashion large metal tub used for taking a bath (with no indoor plumbing).
However, one of the most prominent antique items on display in the ballroom is a 100-year-old Victorian era desk that once belonged to retired Oregon Republican Senator Mark O. Hatfield. Senator Hatfield donated the historic desk to the museum after using it for many years in his office in Washington, D.C.
The desk is from Ogden, Utah, and David Eccles, former manager of the Oregon Lumber Company in Baker City, owned it. On May 29, 1969, Anthony Brandenthaler, who was the manager of the Oregon Lumber Company at that time, donated the desk to Senator Hatfield.
My tour of the museum ended shortly after Bogart talked about some of the other exhibits that were on display. Mr. Bogart did a wonderful job explaining a lot of the history that makes Baker County and Baker City a unique place to live. I was truly in awe and I want to thank Mr. Bogart and museum Director Chris Cantrell for allowing me to tour the museum.
Below is a website link that will take you to my YouTube slideshow video of 40 still photos I snapped of several different exhibits inside the Baker Heritage Museum. I hope you enjoy the photos.
Photos of Baker Heritage Museum Exhibits
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