Washington State History Museum

Coordinates: 47°14′42″N 122°26′10″W / 47.24500°N 122.43611°W / 47.24500; -122.43611
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Washington State History Museum
Location1911 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, Washington, U.S.
Coordinates47°14′42″N 122°26′10″W / 47.24500°N 122.43611°W / 47.24500; -122.43611
TypeHistory museum
DirectorJennifer Kilmer
CuratorLynette Miller

The Washington State History Museum is a history museum located in downtown Tacoma, Washington, United States. It is operated by the Washington State Historical Society under the official approval of the Washington State Legislature. The museum opened on August 10, 1996, at a building adjacent to historic Union Station that cost $42 million to construct.


Designed by the postmodern architect Charles Moore who "insisted that buildings reflect their setting and their purpose".[1] Opened in August 1996, the state spent five years in construction and preparing for the grand opening.[2]

The grounds of the museum are set in a garden that reflects "the character of the entire state" with "dramatic circles and slopes ... sweeping circular ramp [which] suggests a Cascade mountain switchback, while a dished-out amphitheater seating over 200 people represents the Puget Sound".[3]


Permanent exhibits[edit]

Permanent exhibits feature Boeing history, a Southern Coast Salish plank house, maritime history and information about George Vancouver.[2] Artifacts from the Clovis culture are the oldest objects to be found in the museum.[4]

The top floor is also home to the state's largest permanent model train layout, which covers 1,700 sq ft (160 m2) and recreates scenes from Tacoma's Union Station (which is located next to the museum) and other regional railroads. The museum hosts an annual Model Train Festival in December.[5] Model train clubs set up "elaborate displays" in the museum, the festival runs until the first week of January.[6]

Temporary exhibits[edit]

In 2000 the museum celebrated the 100th anniversary of Mount Rainier National Park with the exhibit "Sunrise to Paradise: The Story of Mount Rainier National Park". The 5,500 square foot exhibit showed the park as an active icon in the natural world, as well as its cultural significance in the region.[7]

The traveling exhibit of Native American quilts from 1920 to 1996 was a temporary exhibit at the museum in July 2000. The quilts were displayed in settings such as on beds to showcase the stories depicted on each quilt. The exhibit was called "To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions" and featured 45 North American and Hawaiian quilts.[8]


  1. ^ "Death". Gainesville Sun. December 18, 1993. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  2. ^ a b Associated Press (August 8, 1996). "Washington history museum opens". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Retrieved August 13, 2023.
  3. ^ "Landscape for museum OK'd". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. January 28, 1993. p. 10. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  4. ^ "Did you know..." Ellensburg Daily Record. December 29, 2001. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  5. ^ Sailor, Craig. "Honey, I shrunk Tacoma, Union Station and the kids". thenewstribune.com. The News Tribune. Archived from the original on December 24, 2018. Retrieved August 11, 2023. Union Station was painstakingly reproduced down to the smallest railing and windowpane. Copper shields on the salad bowl-sized domed roof look like the real ones, only much smaller. One half-inch tall passengers unload luggage from cars.
  6. ^ Adams, Sheri (May 11, 2023). "We Bet You Didn't Know There Was A Miniature City In Washington". onlyinyourstate.com. Only in your state. Archived from the original on August 14, 2023. Retrieved August 13, 2023.
  7. ^ "Story of Mt. Rainier National Park Told". Ellensburg Daily Record. February 26, 1999. Retrieved August 12, 2023. The crown of "Sunrise to Paradise" will be an interpretive Palomar ice environment designed by ... artist Dale Chihuly ... instead of a literal reconstruction of ice caves, the work is the artist's interpretation of the icy mountain.
  8. ^ McNally, Shana (July 5, 2000). "History in Patchwork". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved August 11, 2023. The Washington History Museum is the fifth of the seven stops for the quilts