Association History

History of the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association

The Steilacoom Historical Museum Association (SHMA) is a non profit, 501(c)(3) organization. All of our staff are volunteers.

We have a strong influence in our mission of preservation and conservation in the Town of Steilacoom for over four decades. It was incorporated in 1970 and opened its doors on October 1 to its new museum in the lower floor of the Steilacoom Town Hall. The newly formed organization was quickly thrust into historic restoration with the gift of the 1895 Bair Drug and Hardware Store in 1973.

A year later the 1857 Nathaniel Orr Home and Orchard was purchased. Twenty years later Nathaniel’s wagon shop was reconstructed to house his original tools. These historic structures have been restored and maintained through the efforts of its volunteer membership.

Each structure houses extensive collections unique to the period. The Bair store and its artifacts represent the commercial segment, the Orr home, complete with its original furnishings, depicts the pioneer family and the wagon shop, the early-day craftsman. Large additional collections are that of clothing, books from the 1858 Steilacoom Library Association, and over 5,000 photos and glass negatives.

Popular events associated with the Association are the Salmon Bake begun in 1971 and the Apple Squeeze, 1973 which continue to this day. Other events which have been added include: Steilacoom Dines Out, Christmas at the Orr Home, Magical Night at the Wagon Shop, the Fourth of July Ice Cream Social, fashion shows and more recently Silent Movie Night and the Chili Cook-off.

The Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly was published from 1972 – 2007 with “an aim to improve communication within the Association and to further interest in historical information.” In 1988 the editors collaborated for the centennial publication Town on the Sound: Stories of Steilacoom, a compilation of the first 16 years of the Quarterlies. It received two awards, a “Certificate of Appreciation from the State Centennial Commission and placement on the Centennial Book List of recommended books for libraries. It is now in its fifth printing. A pictorial, Steilacoom, was published in 2008.

A new modern museum was constructed in 2001-2003 on the Nathaniel Orr property. It depicts the history of Steilacoom and its role in territorial Washington. Rotating exhibits are changed twice a year. Educational experiences have continued to be a priority with book reviews, lectures, antique identification, field trips, workshops and tours for the fourth graders.