Poulsbo Historical Society reflects Viking City’s rich history

Organization recently celebrated 30 year anniversary

The Poulsbo Historical Society celebrated its 30th anniversary Saturday at the Heritage Museum’s new location, the historic Nilsen-Sonju House on Front Street.

The free event featured drawings for prizes, family activities, refreshments and a tour of the new museum.

PHS’s mission is to collect, record, preserve and exhibit the history, heritage and culture of Poulsbo and nearby communities through its three museums (Maritime, Heritage and Martinson Cabin) and the newly added Archives & Research Center at City Hall, as well as various annual events and partnerships with local businesses and organizations.

The nonprofit helps put on community events like the Liberty Bay Festival & Poulsbo Boat Rendezvous and the annual codfish dinner auction in July, which helps fund its operations. The organization also provides walking tours of historic downtown and partners with Kitsap Regional Library and parks and recreation for events.

Amid COVID-19, PHS started putting together weekly activities where people could come to workshops at the Maritime Museum and pick up activity projects to take home and do as a family. The idea has been so successful that it is going to keep it with the expansion to open-air activities at the lawn of the museum or at Fish Park.

“Those became quite successful and popular,” PHS curator Judy Driscoll said. “Now we’re getting a lot of adults taking part in that as well as kids. They can do it online or in person.”

PHS’s website says it was established in 1991 by a small group of longtime residents who were concerned about keeping the history and artifacts of early Poulsbo within the community.

“Mr. K, who was a retired history teacher at North Kitsap High School, said we really need to be collecting all of these stories and preserving them for the future,” Driscoll said. “At the same time, they were noticing that a lot of the artifacts in the early days were being sent down to the county museum so Poulsbo was kind of losing its own history.

“Being 25 miles away it was harder for people to get to. They kind of hatched the idea of forming a historical society.”

In the early days, PHS was offered a small storage room at City Hall to use as an office with two storage units that were donated for artifacts. A few years later in 1996, it started to gain stable footing with a board, a small office and many storage units full of artifacts, which soon led to the board hiring a part-time director to lead a collection inventory, per the website. Monthly meetings were held at Sons of Norway with various speakers.

About a decade later in 2006, the city of Poulsbo installed the historic Martinson Cabin in Nelson Park on Lindvig Way. PHS volunteered to maintain exhibits inside the cabin, which it does to this day. The cabin features tools, transportation, laundry and nearly every aspect of early Poulsbo pioneers’ daily lives. The cabin is only open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. but can also be opened for special events by appointment.

As membership began to grow, PHS outgrew its small office and a major roof leaking disaster forced the organization to move to a borrowed space in the Powder Hill Business Park. The building of the new City Hall downtown had a vacant area in the building that PHS ended up claiming through a lease/purchase agreement. The Heritage Museum opened on the second floor of City Hall in 2011.

In 2014 a maritime collection was established with the goal of opening a Maritime Museum to capture the rich waterway history of Poulsbo. While exploring spaces that would be a potential fit, a storefront on Front Street became available.

A collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce allowed the move to happen, along with a small area for a Visitors’ Information Center and a gift shop. The Maritime Museum opened in the summer of 2015. A capital campaign launched in 2017 allowed PHS to complete the purchase of the building and the adjoining lot for use of a boatyard.

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. offering exhibits and interactive displays that show things like families traveling dock to dock taking farm products to market in Seattle, home-porting of Alaska codfish fleets, and tours of ships and paddle boards of today, according to the website.

This past year, the organization purchased the historic Nilsen-Sonju House built in 1908, which is next door to the Maritime Museum. With its ideal location, PHS thought it would be a perfect venue to house the Heritage Museum.

Purchase of the building is ongoing, and the organization welcomes donations. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.

“There were 64 members of PHS in 1996, and today we’re well over 200,” Driscoll said. “Since we opened the museums, especially the ones on Front Street, our membership has really grown. In the beginning, it was nearly all senior citizens. Now…we’re seeing younger families come in and want to volunteer.”

With the Heritage Museum now out of City Hall, that left a vacant space that was recently filled by the new Archives & Research Center. It is the main climate-controlled location for artifacts awaiting display and for accessioning new artifacts. It also includes the rare books section of PHS’s library and features a large conference room table that sits about 15 people. It is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and also by appointment.

“We do have some small exhibits of things up there that wouldn’t normally be seen in one of our other museums,” Driscoll said. “We have a computer there with our digital database. People will be able to come in and research their families or topics. People sometimes forget that a museum isn’t just about saving old stuff.

“We had one man come down from Alaska to use our files, and he said he had found more on the cod fishing industry in our files than he had found at the University of Washington. That was really impressive to us that somebody would say that. We’re hoping that research area will grow even more,” she said, adding they are looking for volunteers who are willing to come out three times a week.

Driscoll said the organization’s next goal is to finish paying off the new Heritage Museum property and then hopefully move the Archives and Research Center out of City Hall and into its own building. “At some point, the city is going to say they need the space,” she said.

The Poulsbo Maritime Museum is located on Front Street. Tyler Shuey/North Kitsap Herald photos