Welcome to the Cowlitz County Historical Museum
The museum collects, preserves, and interprets information and artifacts that tell the story of Cowlitz County. The Cowlitz County Historical Museum operates as a partnership between Cowlitz County and the Cowlitz County Historical Society. Formed in 1949, the Society began operating a museum in a space provided by Cowlitz County in 1953. In 1979, the museum relocated to its current location on Allen Street. Museum staff are a combination of Historical Society and County employees. This public-private partnership has benefited our community by making the Cowlitz County Historical Museum an attraction providing quality exhibits, archival research facilities, and engaging educational and public programming.
For information about museum tours, click here.
A Note from the Director
Welcome to the Cowlitz County Historical Museum! Cowlitz County is a great place to live, with easy access to the ocean, Mount St. Helens, and Portland. Nestled amidst forests and rivers with a mix of rural and urban settings, Cowlitz County provides the best of all worlds. Our county has a rich history tied to the land and its natural resources. From being the “Smelt Capital of the World” to some of the richest groves of old growth Douglas Fir, natural resources play a significant role in our past and present. Our permanent exhibition, “Cowlitz Encounters,” is regionally and nationally awarded and shares the history of our county, from its first inhabitants, the Cowlitz People, to American settlement, and the growth of the timber industry, both resource extraction and timber products processing. We have over 35,000 objects in our collections and nearly one million images in our archives. These resources are available for research, academic study, and exhibition. I invite you to visit the Cowlitz County Historical Museum where we keep history alive!
~ Joseph Govednik, Museum Director
Current Exhibit on Display
Memories of a Lost Landscape: Life at Spirit Lake Before the Eruption
Spirit Lake was enjoyed by many as a special place to camp, hike, fish, climb, ski, and embrace the majestic beauty in the shadow of Mount St. Helens. This treasured landscape was created when the Toutle River was dammed by an eruption about 3,000 years ago – a blink of the eye in geologic time. This ephemeral landscape was changed again on May 18, 1980, with the massive eruption at Mount St. Helens. This exhibit shows what recreational life was like prior to 1980 using objects from the museum’s collection, archival images, and audio and video recordings of camp life at the lake. Some unique artifacts on display include Harry Truman’s hat, which was traded with local resident Jim Zonich just weeks prior to the eruption. This exhibit is on display in our rotating gallery space through June 2021.
KOMO 4 Car
The 1978 Mercury Monarch used by journalist David Crockett during his expedition to cover the events at Mount St. Helens tells a haunting story of cataclysmic change and survival. In the early morning hours of May 18, Crockett took this car (known locally as the “KOMO-4 Car”) to the mountain to capture footage. After the eruption, Crockett was isolated on a logging road which washed out behind him. He turned on his camera to film what became a walk through an apocalyptic wasteland as day turned to night with ash from the volcano. David, and his car, survived the blast. The car remained at the mountain for about a year, then was removed and purchased by Clara Ottosen for use in a future museum. Eventually, Ottosen sold the car to Cowlitz County for $1 and it was on display at the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor center. When the visitor center closed in 2017, the car was stored at Seaquest State Park until now. It is currently on display in the foyer of the Cowlitz County Historical Museum.
Check out this 4-part virtual series from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:
Moving a Mountain: Mount St. Helens and the USACE
In the News
September 13, 2020 – Cowlitz County Museum reopens with COVID-19 precautions
August 19, 2020 – ‘Vote for women’ Local groups mark 100 years of women’s right to vote
April 4, 2020 – Cowlitz museum director: ‘This too shall pass’
August 30, 2019 – New Cowlitz Museum exhibit highlights local suffragettes
November 15, 2017 – New Historical Museum exhibit explores Cowlitz County’s WWI contributions