The Douglas County Museum has been a fixture in the community for half a century, from its founding and opening in 1969 to its 50th anniversary this August.
The museum opened on opening day of the fair on August 8, 1969. It was formally dedicated on May 2, 1970. The first director of the museum was George Abdill who was in charge from 1967 to 1982. Abdill started sourcing artifacts to build the museum.
“George Abdill, he went out and he was an avid historian,” said Karen Bratton, research librarian and collections manager. “He just started collecting oral histories and artifacts and things of interest to the community and that pertained to the local area.”
Under his leadership, the museum underwent its first expansion in 1979 to include a larger research library and a natural history exhibit gallery.
The following director, Daniel Robertson, served from 1983 to 1997 and oversaw an 8,000 square foot addition to the museum. The addition created space for a large storage area, photo lab, expanded natural history area and a large shop for fabrication, Bratton said.
Robertson also was involved in the relocation and restoration of the Dillard Depo and helped fundraise in the community for the project.
The following 10 years was a time of transition for the museum and it had a couple different directors.
In 2007, Gardner Chappell became the director of the museum and made his main focus education.
“During his time at the museum, he created an incredible education program,” Bratton said. “Gardner wanted the whole museum to be more hands on. So, he created a large dig pit out in the courtyard where kids can come and dig for different – they can dig for mammoth artifacts, they can dig for Native American artifacts.”
He created play areas within the natural history gallery where kids can play in tents and touch fur pelts. The museum also restored one of the last wagons to come over the Applegate trail for children to play in.
Chappell died in 2017 after serving as the director for 11 years. James Davis was named the new director and has served ever since.
The museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary on July 20 to help fundraise for the education program. They are expecting 2000 people in attendance, Bratton said.
Penny Tannlund, president of the museum foundation, said all the money they have raised from the event sponsors will go towards the education program, which has been severely cut.
The event is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 20 and will feature food trucks, live music and children’s activities.