Skip to main content

Past Time: New Museum Explores Gig Harbor’s History

Published on: October 26, 2010

Gig Harbor Harbor History MuseumEleven-year-old Elias Ferrer of Federal Way put his stamp of approval on the new Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor when he recommended it to his best friend. Elias thoroughly enjoyed the museum’s hands-on exhibits, especially basket weaving and listening to the spoken Indian words of the Puyallup tribe.

Museums have come a long way since I was a child, when all you were allowed to do was look at the exhibits and read the descriptions — no touching! I think that’s why kids have so much more fun learning at museums these days: Exhibits invite kids to interact with the material, touching encouraged.

Besides showcasing the rich heritage of the Gig Harbor area, the Harbor History Museum strives to provide as many hands-on and interactive experiences as it can in order to make history come alive. Interactivity helps kids learn, but they don’t need to know it’s educational.

“We’re excited about sharing Gig Harbor’s rich heritage at this beautiful new space, through compelling displays and interactive exhibits,” says Jennifer Kilmer, executive director of the museum.

Great exhibits your kids will love:

Spoken word: Press a button and hear the word pictured on the button spoken in the Twulshootseed dialect.

Haul the Sail: Children can raise and lower the sail on a mast.

Sounds of the Peninsula: Listen to the sounds made by a diesel engine, steamboat whistle, rooster crowing and a crosscut saw, all commonly heard in the area in the 1800s.

The Kaitlyn: Sit in a half rowboat and row according to the directions on the screen in front of you.

Midway School: Imagine class in an 1893 one-room schoolhouse complete with chalkboards, sample lunches, a wood stove, piano, old-fashioned desks, handwriting practice sheets and very old books.

To make the learning seem even less like a chore and more like fun, children can check out backpacks at the entrance. These backpacks contain a bingo game for families: When you find the item pictured in a bingo square, you can close the window on the card. The first person to get a bingo wins. But there’s much more in these backpacks, including puzzles, word games, reproductions of old books, and a variety of objects and activities related to gallery exhibits.

Parents won’t be bored at this 15,000-square-foot museum, either. Watch a video of “Galloping Gerty” (the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which collapsed in 1940) and touch a piece of the debris. Read letters from people who lived in Gig Harbor more than 100 years ago, view a video of chicken races, learn basic nautical terms, try your hand at tying knots or even sign up to work with a boatwright as an apprentice on the Shenandoah, a 65-foot commercial fishing vessel. The Living History Program introduces you to historical personalities such as commercial fisherman Peter Skansie, mosquito fleet captain Emmet Hunt and pioneer teacher Lucy Goodman.

Open since Sept. 18, 2010, the Harbor History Museum was more than 10 years in the making. A serious fundraising campaign was launched in 2005 and most of the $11.6 million needed came from the local community.

The Harbor History Museum is located at 4121 Harborview Drive. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children ages 7–17, and free for children 6 and younger. For more information, visit

Heather Larson lives in Federal Way and is a frequent contributor to ParentMap.

While in Gig Harbor . . .

Narrows Park has the best view of the two Narrows bridges and is an ideal place to take a boat tour and see the Narrows bridges from the water with Destiny Harbor Tours. Reservations are required in the fall.

Kid-friendly eats
Red Rooster Café, 3313 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor. 253-514-8175. Open daily, 7 a.m.–7 p.m.
Spiro’s Pizza & Pasta
Blazing Onion Burger Company
Fondi at Gig Harbor

Share this article with your friends!

Leave a Comment