The Poulsbo Historical Society is sheer proof of what a group of passionate volunteers can accomplish. What started as small “chat” sessions in 1991 has transformed into a full-time operation with three museums. For decades, the volunteers of the Poulsbo Historical Society have worked tirelessly to preserve the town’s rich history.
Poulsbo Historical Society’s Start
The seeds of what would become the Poulsbo Historical Society are rooted in small gatherings where residents shared and recorded family histories. Not long after, they started collecting artifacts and stored them in basements and barns. By the following year, the group moved into a storage room in City Hall that they used as an office.
By 1996, the society had a board of advisors and two storage units overflowing with artifacts. Then the organization hired its first part-time director to spearhead a collection inventory and further develop the organization.
Museums and Growth
In 2006, the city installed the Martinson Cabin in Nelson Park. PHS volunteered to help preserve and maintain the cabin’s exhibits. Two years later, the city asked PHS to help with Poulsbo’s centennial celebration. They provided historical skits, exhibits, and videos.
Their growth led to a second museum: the Poulsbo Heritage Museum, which opened in 2011 on the second floor of City Hall. Soon after, in 2015, the society’s third museum, the Maritime Museum, was established, complete with a visitor’s center and a gift shop.
Photos by Leo Phillips.
In 2020, the society took the opportunity to consolidate both museums onto one property. It purchased the 133-year-old Nilsen-Sonju house, which is next door to the Maritime Museum. The newly renovated Heritage Museum opened on April 8th, 2021.
“I believe that the preservation and education of Poulsbo’s rich and diverse history have contributed to making Poulsbo such a special place now and will continue well into the future. I am excited to be a part of such a great organization that contributes so positively to our entire community,” says Lora Benson, Broker, and Poulsbo Historical Society Board Member.
“The community – individuals, organizations, foundations, government – have been AMAZING,” says PHS Acting Executive Director Mary Ann Acosta. Acosta loves “being part of the growth of the organization” and “making more connections with the larger community, finding ways to serve and celebrate one another.”
The Poulsbo Historical Society has enriched our community by establishing three free museums with two libraries, a boatyard, an active education/outreach program offering monthly speakers’ programs, research facilities in both the Maritime and Heritage museums, an informal genealogy group, and educational activities for children.
However, this monumental achievement would not have been possible without the help of the community. The power of local grants, community members, neighborhood organizations, and thousands of volunteer hours has cemented Poulsbo’s place in history.
“Poulsbo Historical Society is largely staffed by volunteers. We have a 1.25 full-time equivalent paid staff. The rest of us volunteer, contributing from our own professional backgrounds…teaching, non-profit management, city department chief, merchant, librarian, military officer, etc. There are a total of 71 volunteer slots actively filled at any given time,” says Acosta.
The Poulsbo Historical Society continues to expand, with hopes of opening up its venues for outside events sometime this year. In April, PHS participated in Kitsap Great Give, an annual fundraiser for local nonprofits, and they raised $11,180. But more financial support is needed to continue to develop their programs and to pay off the new Heritage Museum.
In addition to their three free museums, PHS offers downtown walking tours for families, groups, and visitors on an appointment basis. They’re $10 per person or $30 per family or small group. Members enjoy a discounted rate. Group sizes are limited to 15 due to our narrow Front Street. Walking tours must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance. During non-COVID times, PHS offers summer tours for cruise ships that come to Poulsbo. Additionally, at the Martinson Cabin, they can open for school and civic groups for History Mystery programs. Generally, it’s $25 per class or group. They can accommodate up to 20 people there by appointment. “Saturdays at the Maritime” is also a great program that provides historical activities for the whole family. Due to COVID-19, they’re currently offering take-and-go projects.
PHS also hopes to make its venues available soon for events such as birthday parties. This idea is still “in the works” but Acosta says they’d like to open up the spaces to groups, providing tours of the museum(s) and interesting craft-type projects would be included as the “entertainment”, geared to a particular age group.
One of the society’s most anticipated events, the second annual Liberty Bay Festival, will be held in person this year. The festival is an extension of the Poulsbo Boat Rendezvous. The “Poulsbo boat” is a uniquely styled boat that was built in Poulsbo (most famously by Ronald Young) in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Boat owners hosted rendezvous for the town. The community revived the tradition in the last few years and continues to expand it.
This year’s rendezvous will be on Saturday, August 28, 2021. The festivities will extend from August 25 – 29. Volunteers are hosting numerous booths with family-friendly activities and a family movie night on the lawn. It’s an excellent opportunity for locals to celebrate their shared history.
PHS welcomes and depends on volunteers, year-round. An easy way to help is by volunteering at one of their museums. Simply choose which museum you’d like to volunteer your time in, and sign up. You don’t need any prior knowledge. It’s a wonderful way to connect to our community.