For those who are fascinated by old attic spaces and the mementos accumulated there, the storage areas of the Lewis County Historical Museum in Chehalis are places that any history buff might get lost in for hours. 

The Northern Pacific Railway Depot was built in Chehalis in 1912 as a freight and passenger depot.  After the consolidation of the rail-lines to become Burlington Northern, it was announced in 1972 that the station would be closed and razed to the ground. The Lewis County Historical Society, who had set up a museum in a house donated by Dr. Arthur S. Corey, needed more space and parking. The historic depot was ideal and the Historical Society approached the rail company in the hopes of acquiring the building, but the railroad was determined to have it demolished.

Lewis County Historical Museum
The Depot Attic was an open space when the historical society took possession in this undated photo. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Historical Museum

Chehalis merchants also had their eye on the property for a parking lot. Society member Minnie Lingreen worked diligently to obtain documentation stating that the property held historic significance. This move led to a three-year battle with the railroad.  James Backman prevailed by placing the depot on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

In November of 1975, the Lewis County Board of Commissioners signed a 20-year agreement with Burlington Northern with the stipulation that the Historical Society runs it as a museum. The community raised $50,000 for renovations. The lengthy process of transforming the Depot into a museum began in earnest and the five-day grand opening began on September 18, 1979.

Model train enthusiast and museum volunteer Ted Livermore recounts the history of the museum attic. “It was going to be the stationmaster’s quarters, but it was never finished off because this was one of the last big stations they built,” he says. “It’s neat when you’re up there to think, where would the bedroom have gone?”

Lewis County Historical Museum
The attic stairs are narrow and steep at the Lewis County Historical Museum. Photo credit: Jessica Rush

At the time of the museum’s acquisition of the depot, the attic was a barebones open space, perfect for accessioning the museum’s collection. The Lewis County Historical Museum routinely rotates exhibits and all those items that are rotated out end up carefully cataloged and stored in the attic.

Curator Sylvia Livermore is tasked with turning the attic’s contents into exhibits. “What haven’t we done for a while?” she says. “Because we like to do new things.”

The attic access is a treacherously steep and narrow stairway that must be ascended and descended with a firm grip of the handrail. The tedious task of hauling collections up and down the stairs at some point led to the construction of a dumbwaiter. The attic itself is a warren of bookshelves and cupboards loaded with maps, records, personal collections, diaries, love letters, an extensive historic clothing collection and so much more.

Sylvia’s office is another fascinating behind the scene’s space in the museum. Her office is where you will find recently donated items that have yet to be on display. One such item is a newspaper printed on cloth. On August 1, 1861, the Vancouver Chronicle ran out of paper, so it was printed on cloth. It’s held up incredibly well. Along with that donation came a snuffbox that was in the War of 1812.

Lewis County Historical Museum
The Curator’s office is where interesting items are rotated on and off display. Photo credit: Jessica Rush

“So, I’ll be working on that for a new display,” says Silvia. “We also have another new newspaper – the first Olympia paper, The Columbian printed in 1852.”

Museum Director, Jason Mattson would love to do an exhibit on attics. There are fascinating attics all over Centralia such as the one above Centerville Café which used to be a theater and the old Elks building, now Ayala Brothers with its ballroom upstairs. These off-limit sorts of places no one often sees hold a certain fascination.

In recent years the museum’s attic gained notoriety for unexplained banging noises, shadowy figures and items mysteriously shifting location. Ghost tours by South Sound Paranormal Group are conducted a couple of times a year. Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) have been captured there. Sylvia was startled to hear her name whispered on an EVP. “There are ghosts up there,” says Sylvia. “They have even called me by name.”

Both Sylvia and her husband Ted have had unexplained experiences in the attic. “We had a chair up there and it had been moved,” recounts Ted. “We put it back where it belonged. When we went up there the same day, it was moved again to the opposite end of the aisle.”

Lewis County Historical Museum
Up in the attic of the Lewis County Historical Museum is an extensive collection of vintage clothing. Photo credit: Jessica Rush

Something in the attic also likes to make noise. “I was sorting through a box of clothes in the attic,” says Sylvia. “There was banging and I thought it was the air conditioning ducts or something. The next day I accidentally bumped into a metal cabinet and that was the sound I heard the day before. They just like to get your attention.”

Jason Mattson encourages those who are interested to join a ghost tour conducted by Patty from South Sound Paranormal Research.  “When they do investigations, they get EVP’s,” says Jason.

For those who would like an opportunity to see the Lewis County Historical Museum, attend the upcoming paranormal investigation on March 7.

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