Budget cuts may axe Washington historic sites

Washington, washington, Tacoma, tacomaAs the Great Recession drags on, more and more state programs are feeling the pinch. This includes many sites of historic interest. In the latest budget announced by Washington Governor Chris Gregiore, the state’s three Historical Society museums will all have to close.

The State Capital Museum in the Lord Mansion in Olympia, and museums in Tacoma and Spokane, would all be affected. The governor has earmarked $2.4 million to maintain the sites and their archives, but it would cost twice as much to keep them open, The News Tribune reports.

The Lord Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and in addition to having a museum, it hosts many public events. The Washington State Historical Society Museum in Tacoma gets an average of 100,000 visitors a year.

To be fair to Governor Gregiore, she’s facing a serious problem. If she keeps the museums open, that means $2.4 million less for other programs, and then some non-travel-related blog would be complaining about her budget. But museums and historical societies are important parts of the community, not just for old-timers who want to reminisce and tourists interested in history, but newcomers who want some background on their surroundings. I’ve moved way too many times, and one thing I always do to get grounded is study the history of my new home.

I also do Civil War research, and that means I’ve seen the inner workings of many historical societies. One place you’ll often find me is the State Historical Society of Missouri. Once or twice a week my studies are interrupted by a crowd of schoolkids coming into the library to see the treasures of the archives. Some researchers grumble about this, but I’m always happy to see them come in. One object that always arouses interest is a long, thin map of the Mississippi River that unrolls like a scroll. Steamboat pilots used it to navigate the perilous waters of the river more than a century ago. The students are fascinated by it, not just because of its odd appearance but because of what it symbolizes. More than once I’ve overheard kids talking about what it would have been like to use the map to avoid sandbars, sunken logs, and dangerous currents just like Mark Twain did.

This historical society, like so many others, has had its share of budget cuts. They recently had to stop a theatrical series and a traveling lecture tour. Both were popular, but the society simply can’t afford them.

It would be a shame if they had to cut the tours. Missouri schoolkids wouldn’t get their imaginations fired by that map anymore.

[Photo courtesy Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons]