#352–Siuslaw Pioneer Museum––the place to be . . .

Sea Lion Caves Reception

It certainly was the place to be for 150–200 folks last Friday evening on August 26, when the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum hosted the reception to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the Sea Lion Caves.

In the center are Steve and Sue Saubert in front of the Sea Lion Caves exhibit.
Photo by Scott Steward

It was like a reunion of folks I used to see at concerts and such and just haven’t seen since Covid hit. It was the same with folks who’d volunteered at the museum over the years and whom I hadn’t seen in ages. So, I had a wonderful time catching up.

Since I was wearing my Museum docent nametag, people knew my name. Several introduced themselves throughout the evening. One was Mary Jacobson who handles the finances at the Caves and is descended from one of the three original owners. I knew her mother, Jo, back in the late 1980s and through the mid-90s. She said that her mother had spoken of me often over the years. Her mother passed away several years ago. So, that was lovely to hear. I spoke with several people who knew me from talks I’ve given at the museum or who had one or more of my books. I didn’t recognize any of them, but it was fun. Made me feel like a celebrity!

At the end of his speech, Steve presents the Museum with this giant check for $25,000. Wow!
–Photo by Scott Steward

There were wonderful goodies, including champagne and truffles, cheeses and crackers, shrimp with dipping sauce, and yummy pastries with savory fillings. There was also wine to drink. Marianne Brisbane, who catered the reception, outdid herself.

There were the usual speeches, of which most were quite short. Steve Saubert another descendent of one of the early-owner families spoke last. He is one of the more important folks in town, but I think of him as a down-to-earth guy with ethics and a sense of humor. I’ve interviewed him numerous times for my books, and I think he’s a sweetheart and so is his wife, Sue. At the end of Steve’s comments, he presented a check to the Museum from the Sea Lion Caves for $25,000. I was stunned! It will certainly come in handy, as there are always repairs when the Museum is housed in a 117-year old building.

Building History

It was built in 1905 as the first school building for Florence. The lower grades were downstairs and the high school students upstairs. Sometime during its first five to 10 years, the bell tower caught on fire and the large, cast iron bell fell. A chunk broke loose, and we have it on display in one of the display areas. I like to tell people that the Liberty Bell isn’t the only bell on display with a crack in it.

When the school was quite new between 1905 and 1910. –Photo Courtesy Siuslaw Pioneer Museum

It was a school for decades and then had a number of different uses including a depot for brush collection and later a site for a variety of small shops.

There was another fire in the bell tower in 1953 that burned a portion of the upstairs. After that fire, the building was rebuilt with a different configuration. And that is how it looks today.

The current configuration of the Museum.

The Museum Exhibits

The walls, ceiling, and floors you see downstairs, are original. We’ve set up one section off of the lobby to show how people lived long ago. And on the other side is what they did––fishing, farming, and logging. All items on display were donated by families that lived in the area.

An old-fashioned kitchen.

That is true of the upstairs as well––except for one fabulous exhibit that covers the Western Lane County Fair of 1922 that was created by the library research staff. There were several occasions in the 1920s when there was a Western Lane County Fair. Today, there is simply the Lane County Fair in Eugene.

Part of the logging exhibit. The misery whip and the drag saw.

Upstairs is a sewing room with a loom set up. Prior to Covid, we had a weaver come in on weekends to demonstrate. There are many, many photos upstairs, quite a display of dolls in the sewing room, a children’s room with several toys, many lndian artifacts, and a display showing every covered bridge in Lane County. The largest room upstairs is also used for programs and meetings.

The sewing room with its loom and other fabulous displays.

More display areas are outside the main building. One of my favorites is in a separate room next to one of the Museum entrances. This room holds one of the original mechanisms that opened one side of the Siuslaw River Bridge, which is a double-bascule drawbridge. It was operated manually from 1936, when the bridge opened, to 2010, when it was renovated and updated. During that time, it took one person on each side to open the bridge. Now, it is computerized and only one person needs to be on either side to open the bridge. But computers can go down. So, there is a drawer on each side that when pulled open exposes a miniature manual means of operating the bridge. So just like in the old days, it takes two people. I like to say to visitors that what is old is new again. Above the bridge mechanism on display is a flat-screen TV with a loop video and voice over showing and explaining what happens when the bridge opens and closes. As the bridge lady of the Oregon coast, I love this exhibit!

The bell that fell in the first fire.

There is another display area outside on the enclosed deck area that house many large items used in fishing and on the farm. There’s also an actual river boat built by an early pioneer, Mads Jensen, on display. He named it Melba, after one of his granddaughters. Melba was my partner for a few years and knew a lot of the early history of the area.

Also, in that display area is the large bell that fell during the first bell-tower fire. One of the most impressive exhibits out there is the miniature, scale model steam lumber mill showing in 12 stages what happens from cutting the tree until it comes out as finished lumber. It was built by a logger over a 25-year period.

Museum offers more than exhibits

Besides the Museum exhibits, there is a gift shop area, where four of my books are sold. And in a separate building is the Research Library, which works best if you secure an appointment first. When visiting the museum there is a lot to see. Plan on at least an hour. Every time I’m there, I see an item or photo that I’ve not seen before. Newly donated items are always being added. Nowadays, there is a lift, so folks who can’t do stairs can get to the second floor.

You need an appointment, but it contains many photos, documents, and newspaper articles and just all kinds of stuff. I spent much of five months here doing research for Around Florence, the history of Florence from 1876 to present day.

 I’ve been a docent at the Museum for 20 years. When I started, I was still working at the magazines, but I’d take off from work every other Wednesday afternoon. I did that until Covid hit. The Museum was closed for most of a year. Since its reopening in March of 2021, I’ve been there nearly every Sunday.

For several years, the Museum was located in the building housing the Lutheran Church south of the bridge. Not many visitors stopped by then. We moved into the current location in 2006. Being in Old Town in an historic building is the perfect location for the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum. Stop by. It’s the place to be!

About crossingsauthor

Judy Fleagle spent 22 years teaching 1st and 2nd grades and 21 years as editor/staff writer with Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines.Since 2009, she has written five books: "Crossings: McCullough's Coastal Bridges," "The Crossings Guide to Oregon's Coastal Spans," "Around Florence," "Devil Cat and Other Colorful Animals I Have Known," and "The Oregon Coast Guide to the UNEXPECTED!!!."
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