History in the Making: A Guide to Klamath County’s Museums
Klamath County boasts a varied lineup of museums covering everything from millennia-old American Indian artifacts to telescopes, gyroscopes, and lightning balls available for hands-on tinkering by young explorers. Let’s take a hopscotching tour of some of the best-known of these enlightening institutions.
Klamath County Museum, 1451 Main St., Klamath Falls
This is the county’s flagship history museum. It’s a fantastic place to get an overview of the diverse cultures and key events that have shaped this Southern Oregon heartland over thousands of years. The Klamath County Museum calls one of the great historic buildings in Klamath Falls home: The 1930s-vintage Klamath Armory & Auditorium, a fine example of Art Deco/Classical Moderne architecture.
Within, take a gander at exhibits focused on the area’s native cultures, including the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin peoples, as well as the multiple chapters of Euro-American settlement. There’s engrossing coverage of Klamath County during World War II, including information and artifacts related to the balloon bombs Japan lofted into Oregon with the intent to sow panic and spark wildfires. You’ll see fragments of these contraptions—called fugos (in Japanese), or “wind ships,”—recovered from the county, most infamously the balloon bomb that killed Elise Mitchell and several students via accidental detonation on a 1945 picnic on Gearhart Mountain.
Baldwin Hotel Museum, 31 Main St., Klamath Falls
Among the grander old buildings in Klamath County’s seat, the Baldwin Hotel opened as a hardware store in 1905. Built into a rocky slope by George Baldwin, the building had a stairstep-like four-story design, and hosted not only the first-floor store, but a number of apartments and offices. A few years later Baldwin converted the place into a hotel, notable at the time for its electricity and indoor plumbing.
A few years after Baldwin’s death in 1923, his daughter Maud—who’d had a photography studio on the fourth floor of the Baldwin—sold the hotel, which then remained active until 1977. Klamath County purchased the landmark and turned it into a museum. It’s one of the best places in Oregon for getting a feel for what life was like in the state during the Victorian era.
The museum includes reconstructed hotel rooms, offices, and apartments that represented the Baldwin’s early years. There is also a restored rendition of Maud Baldwin’s photography studio complete with some of her hefty glass-plate cameras.
Favell Museum, 125 W. Main St., Klamath Falls
Another exceptional place to get some perspective on the original peoples of the Upper Klamath Basin—and the Americas in general—is the Favell Museum. It houses 100,000-plus artifacts from both North and South America that represent some 12,000 years of human history. From ancient, enigmatic Clovis points used to take down mammoths to sophisticated basketry, pottery, beadwork, and textiles, these pieces serve as portals to the incredibly rich and diverse tapestry of the Western Hemisphere’s native cultures.
In addition to tools, clothing, and artwork from places as far away as Alaska and Peru, the Favell showcases incredible artifacts from Klamath County and the greater region. On display, is the oldest known atlatl (or “spear-thrower”), collected from Nevada’s Nicolarsen Cave, as well as a stunning arrowhead fashioned from fire opal found in the Black Rock Desert.
Along with these precious prehistoric and historic indigenous objects, the Favell Museum also houses a fine inventory of Western art, including the original of Charles M. Russell’s well-known painting The Scouts.
Fort Klamath Museum, 51400 Hwy 62, Fort Klamath
One of the most historical military sites in the Northwest is memorialized at the Fort Klamath Museum, which encompasses just a small portion—including the old parade grounds—of the eponymous outpost.
The U.S. Army established Fort Klamath in 1863 to safeguard emigrants settling in the area via the Applegate Trail, a southern spur of the Oregon Trail. It eventually came to house more than 80 buildings, including a sawmill, and also grew roughly 3,000 acres of hay for the fort’s horses.
During the year following the fort’s dedication, a council made up of the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin tribes led to the establishment of the Klamath Reservation located to the immediate south of the fort. The federal government’s refusal to allow the Modocs to reside in their original territory along the Lost River resulted in the 1872-1873 Modoc War, during which Kintpuash, known to the Americans as Captain Jack, holed up with his band in the rough country now protected as Lava Beds National Monument just across the border in California.
After the Modocs’ surrender, Kintpuash and three of his fellow leaders imprisoned at Fort Klamath were found guilty of murder for the killing of General Edward Canby and Rev. Eleazer Thomas, members of a government-appointed peace commission. The four Modocs were hanged and buried at the fort in an execution witnessed (as the Oregon History Project notes) by many visitors, among them schoolchildren that came over from Ashland.
Those graves remain at the site of Fort Klamath, which was decommissioned in the late 1880s.
The museum’s a must-visit for anyone interested in one of the region’s most significant showdowns between indigenous peoples and the U.S. military.
Collier Memorial State Park & Logging Museum, 46000 Hwy 97 N, Chiloquin
Klamath County lays claim to an important logging industry more than a century old. One of the best places to learn about it is Collier Memorial State Park, where the Williamson River and Spring Creek join. Here you’ll find the Collier Logging Museum, among the most significant of its kind in the country.
The foundation of this mostly open-air museum is built upon vintage logging equipment provided by Alfred and Andrew Collier. The brothers donated the original land for the park to the state in the name of their parents, Charles and Janet. Alfred, nicknamed “Cap,” was a lumberman who established the Swan Lake Logging Company, and he continued contributing pieces of logging gear to the museum until his death in 1988.
Walking the museum’s interpretive paths, the “Cut, Move, Mill Trail” and “Logging Evolution Trail,” as well as “Railroad Row,” visitors will see logging technology dating all the way back to the horse- and ox-powered days of the 1860s. The collection has everything from high wheels and steam donkeys to tractors and trucks as well as a tugboat used in log-rafting and the most extensive collection of McGiffert and McVay log loaders anywhere. Also on display are the vintage buildings of the Historic Cabin Village and an array of logging hand tools and chainsaws.
Children’s Museum of Klamath Falls, 711 Main St., Klamath Falls
If kids are part of the mix then the Children’s Museum of Klamath Falls should be on the itinerary. Opened in 2008, this thoughtfully designed hands-on learning center includes interactive exhibits such as Our Town, complete with a kid-sized doctor’s office, fire station, beauty salon, and more. There are also Experimentation Stations, a treasure trove of gadgets for exploring basic concepts of physics.
And take note, the Children’s Museum of Klamath Falls can be rented for birthday parties, so consider giving that youngster a celebration to remember within its fun-filled walls!
Whether its logging, the Victorian era or a child-sized town that piques an interest, Klamath County has a museum for that. Come and enjoy exploring the area’s history, art, experimentation stations, and more!
Written by Ethan Shaw for Matcha in partnership with Discover Klamath Visitor and Convention.