Documenting Local History

The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum in Stevenson is filled with millions of dollars worth of artifacts documenting 15,000 years of gorge history. But the staff and volunteers are always on the hunt for more, especially documentation of early local pioneers.

Leading that effort is volunteer Rich Curran of Carson. Curran has been involved with Skamania County’s museum for more than 40 years, long before there was an interpretive center. In the early years he worked on various historical society newsletters and other printed material, calling on his 30 years experience in print production at the Pioneer, which began in 1960. His work at the interpretive center included digitizing more than 4,000 historical photos, which are now available for research, publication and family genealogy.

Curran’s latest focus is on the preservation of hundreds of oral histories, many of which were conducted more than 30 years ago. “Thankfully, there was a big push in the ‘70s, overseen by Sharon Tiffany,” he explained. “A lot of volunteers talked to more than 200 pioneers. It was a huge project.”

“We brought in a professional oral history taker and she taught our committee how best to conduct an interview and complete all the necessary paperwork,” said Tiffany, the executive director of the museum. And through the years there have been several volunteers who have helped transcribe the tapes. But it took Curran and his commitment of literally thousands of hours to finally get many of the tapes into a digital format. There are many more tapes to transcribe, but more than 100 are now on the museum’s web site. One of the final steps for Curran was enlisting a cadre of volunteer proofreaders to go over transcribed interviews. They currently meet every Monday at the museum at 10 a.m.

“We are very proud to finally have these priceless pieces of local history up on the site for anyone to view,” said Jim Price, assistant director. “And let’s all remember, this is an ongoing project. We need volunteers to transcribe more of the old tapes, and we also need volunteers to conduct new interviews with some of our early residents. There are still hundreds of wonderful stories and volumes of information about life in the region that are going to be gone forever if we don’t act.”

Anyone interested in volunteering should call the museum at 509-427-8211 or email info@columbiagorge.org.

Caption: Rich Curran oversees volunteer proofreaders (from left) Susie Impson, Heidi Jones, Frances Heller, Patty Price, and Merna DeBolt. Current proofreaders not pictured are Pat Hanson, Gretchen L’Hommedieu, and Donna Ash.

Located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum brings to life the human stories and natural history of one of our nation’s most compelling landscapes.