Visiting Museums in Yakima

Yakima is truly an amazing place. Yes, I grew up here, so it should be pretty easy for me to make that comment. Every once in a while, I need to be reminded by what makes this valley so special. 

This article was originally written more than 14 months ago. It was to celebrate the heritage of the valley highlighted by our accomplishments. It was a chance to look back and see what made a difference in our lives, and the generations before us. It was a feature on our local museums who tell our stories every day. The global pandemic had other plans. 

The Yakima Valley Museum (YVM), located in the heart of Yakima is the cornerstone of the museums in the region, and spans the greatest cultural, historical and geographical significance. After a 13-month hiatus, it reopened in mid-April 2021. Locals refer to it as just “The Museum” because of all it encompasses. I like to think of it as the wise old grandparent of the valley. A grandparent who just had a grand makeover.

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

What To Expect

YVM has always covered just about every bit of history of the greater Yakima Valley. The staff used the shutdown as an opportunity to prepare to retell that history. I was able to revisit the museum before sharing this story. I’ve loved a stroll through the halls over the years, but this isn’t the museum I used to know, and that’s ok. While not losing its patina, every exhibit now sings with a vibrancy.

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

It starts with the entry to the museum that takes you through a 15-million-year-old forest of petrified wood collected from a ridge in the valley. A simple paint job in the hall brought to life the pictures and paintings that hung there for decades. A new attraction completed during the shutdown is the Pleistocene exhibit, which includes a reproduction Columbian mammoth skull with tusks (at 9 feet wide and 7 feet high, it is both literally and figuratively “mammoth”). 

No broad interest museum in the United States would be complete without a collection of Native American archives, and YVM is no different. Their archives and displays include over 3,000 artifacts from across the country. They include numerous pieces from the Yakama Nation in our region as well as many from Klickitat, Nez Perce and countless other North American cultural groups.

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

Current Exhibits

The majority of the exhibits today however, come from the last 100-150 years, and only 10 percent of their collection is actually out on display. Agriculture has played such a part in our history and the museum definitely celebrates it. Tractors and farm implements are still a major component, but they are completely reinvigorated with new photography and simpler descriptions for every age of reader to enjoy. The bee and pollination exhibit and one of the largest apple box label collections in the world round out the interactive agricultural displays.

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

One display locals celebrate is the Justice William O. Douglas exhibit. The longest serving United States Supreme Court Justice, from 1939 to 1975, Douglas spent the majority of his youth in the Yakima Valley and later called it the “treasure house of my childhood.” The exhibit includes a recreation of his Washington D.C. office including various papers written on behalf of the environment and other artifacts. 

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

A favorite exhibit of any YVM patron has to be the “neon garden,” a ceiling mounted display. The vertical gaze causes your jaw to drop in amazement of the brilliant glow. My personal favorite is a corner space that two polar opposite signs share. They are the yin and the yang of Yakima’s past as one represents the faith from the Union Gospel Mission in a virgin Mary like white and blue glow, while the other is a blaze of fiery red from the T & T Tavern.  

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

One of my family’s favorite areas of the museum, the children’s underground, is still under wraps until COVID-19 restrictions can be eased. However, the museum has developed interactive components throughout nearly every hall and exhibit. Text boards and brand-new audio/video monitors are all being converted to dual language, English and Spanish. They have added steps and railings for the youngest patrons to get a better look in specific large displays as well. 

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

Three new exhibits also grace the museum floor. A permanent pharmacy exhibit complete with an iron lung is a new resident. Two others celebrate the artistic talents of women in our region. “Divergent Voices – Common Ground” showcases the artwork of Deborah Ann, Cheryl Hahn, Carolyn Nelson and Laura Wise. Originally intended to coincide with the centennial celebration of the 19th amendment, this exhibit is just getting a late start. “Couture” is a fashion exhibition featuring the talents works of Carolyn Schactler. She was the professor of apparel design at Central Washington University for nearly 30 years and has received both national and international fame and awards. 

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

The museum is currently developing three additional exhibits, with two of them hoping to open before the end of the year. “Mountaineering in the Central Cascades” will be the first of its kind in autumn of 2021. A new Japanese exhibit should be unveiled around the same time. Finally, a World War II exhibit featuring the stories of Yakima people and how they were impacted should be on display in 2022. 

Yakima Valley Museum 
2104 Tieton Drive
Yakima, WA 98902
www.YVMuseum.org

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

Central Washington Ag Museum

The next museum to truly show off our valley is the Central Washington Ag Museum in Union Gap. Situated immediately next to the mouth of “the gap,” the ag museum displays focus primarily on the implement and early settler side of the valley. 

The majority of their exhibits are semi-enclosed buildings hosting early appliances such as grinding stones, washing machines and other early furniture. These are open year-round for a walking or driving tour. The museum itself is only open from April through October, or by appointment.

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

The property is also peppered with old wagons, tractors, recreated living quarters and even entire cabins. It’s an immediate reminder of how far we’ve advanced mechanically, electronically and obviously digitally over the last century or more. 

A number of the area’s pioneering families have contributed items to the museum and are recognized for developing the region as an agricultural hub and putting the Yakima Valley on the proverbial map. 

Central Washington Ag Museum
4508 Main Street
Union Gap, WA 98903
www.CentralWAAgMuseum.org

Exhibit at the Yakima Museum

Other Museums to Visit

Additional museums celebrating our heritage line the Yakima Valley. Some are great for families interested in travel and heritage, others are better suited for adults looking to learn about their favorite beverage or the ingredients that make it. Make sure to check websites before visiting as all of these museums have all been closed during the Washington State governor’s phased reopening plan.

Yakama Nation Museum & Cultural Center
100 Spiel-yi Loop
Toppenish, WA 98948
www.YakamaMuseum.com 

Northern Pacific Railway Museum
10 Asotin Avenue
Toppenish, WA 98948
www.NPRYMuseum.org/

Yakima Electric Railway Museum
418 S. 3rd Avenue
Yakima, WA 98902
www.YakimaValleyTrolleys.org

American Hop Museum
22 S. B Street 
Toppenish, WA 98948
www.AmericanHopMuseum.org

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Ryan Messer

Ryan was born and raised in Yakima, Washington. He spent time in California’s Bay Area and then Seattle, but has always called Yakima home. He enjoys talking to others about why Washington is better than your state and most appreciates the fact that the heart of the state’s beer and wine industry are in his backyard. The rest of his time is spent with his wife and two boys and talking about baseball.

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