By Drew Myron
History gets personal at Hutson Museum in Parkdale
Hutson Museum is a small facility with a big problem.
As businesses across the nation face employee shortages that hamper service and production, Parkdale’s first and only museum has its own staffing crisis.
Situated in the center of town, the barnred structure is home to the town’s historic treasures. Yet, without enough volunteers to keep the doors open, the beloved landmark could face closure.
“We are looking for volunteers to join us in keeping the museum open and thriving,” says Leila Coe, who recently stepped up to serve as chair of the seven-person board of directors.
A seasonal attraction, the museum that is open April to October has had to cut back to weekends only, just three hours each day.
“We’d like to have enough volunteers to be open five days a week,” Leila says. “If we could get enough people to volunteer just one day a month, that would really help.”
Due to the pandemic, the museum was closed the entire 2020 season, then opened with limited hours in 2021. Compounding the pain was the shuttering of the Mount Hood Railroad Fruit Loop Excursion train. Located on the southern end of Mount Hood Railroad line, the museum drew passengers who stopped to shop and stroll through Parkdale.
The tourist train ceased operations in 2019, and the company has been sold. While the new owner has resumed some scenic excursions, there are no plans for the train to return to the Upper Valley.
“Visitor numbers have dropped,” Leila says. “We used to have 200 people a day from the train. Now, 25 is a really good day. We need to survive without the train.”
The museum is an all-volunteer operation, with local folks committed to keeping history alive. Dedicated contributors include Doris Hill, 90, who has worked as a volunteer and board member since the museum opened in 1993; and Leila, 46, who is now the youngest board member.
Fifteen volunteers keep the museum open, but more are needed to help with a variety of tasks and projects, such as greeting
visitors, cataloging inventory, organizing special events and running the gift shop.
The museum began from the personal rock collection of Jesse and Winifred Hutson. Known as rockhounds and storytellers, the Hutsons amassed a huge collection they displayed in their home and welcomed the public to enjoy.
When Jesse and Winifred died in the late 1980s, their collection was willed to the Parkdale community on the condition a museum be built to share their valuable rocks and minerals. In 1993, the Jesse and Winifred Hutson Museum was established.
“Everybody called him Uncle Jess,” says Larry Elliot, who fondly recalls childhood rock and artifact hunting with Jesse. “He was a real rockhound, and everyone loved him.”
Larry, 72, has lived in Parkdale his entire life. For 35 years, he worked for the Forest Service planting trees and fortifying woodlands, then retired and joined Hutson’s small but earnest group of volunteers.
Larry’s life is on these walls, in this poster, that book, in the rocks and artifacts, and in the memories of Parkdale’s past.
Situated on 2 acres, the museum is nestled among mature trees with a lush lawn that leads to a small amphitheater, a short boardwalk to the railroad line and Parkdale Grange. The entire complex is designated as a National Historic Site and features striking views of Mount Hood.
The museum offers abundant local history and, thanks to the Hutsons, is most known for an extensive rock collection that includes thousands of rough specimens, polished slabs, spheres and eggs. A popular display is a whimsical and elaborate dining table featuring a full setting and a “meal” created from rocks and minerals arranged to resemble food.
Equally impressive is the abundant display of Native American artifacts, including stone bowls, mortars and grinding tools, along with archeological tools carved from obsidian, agate and basalt. The assortment lines the walls and drawers of the museum. Some say it is the largest arrowhead collection in Oregon.
Along with rocks, minerals and artifacts, the museum boasts a busy mix of local memorabilia that tells of Parkdale’s vibrant past. Much of the museum’s collection is comprised of everyday items—maps, magazines, photos, yearbooks, paintings and carvings—made valuable because they reveal a slice of life in the Upper Hood River Valley.
“Look at this,” Larry says, eagerly pointing to a poster announcing a local wrestling match. “I knew him, and him. History is important. We need to keep this going.”