Museum board member, Jan Hodgers, stands among photographs of her Sisters ancestors, members of the Hindman, Cobb, and Fryrear families. The photos were discovered in an old family trunk. photo courtesy Three Sisters Historical Society
Museum board member, Jan Hodgers, stands among photographs of her Sisters ancestors, members of the Hindman, Cobb, and Fryrear families. The photos were discovered in an old family trunk. photo courtesy Three Sisters Historical Society
Those who settled Sisters were a hardy bunch who overcame many obstacles to create lives for themselves and their families here in Central Oregon. The same could be said for the board of directors and volunteers at the Sisters History Museum who, amidst a pandemic and hazardous smoke conditions, persevered to offer a soft opening of the new museum on the corner of North Larch and East Cascade Avenue last week.

They sent out notices to their members and welcomed anyone who happened to stop by, of which there were several descendants of early Sisters families who just happened to be in town.

“We are very pleased with the reception from the public so far, as well as recent visitors with roots in the past,” said Karen Swank, board member.

The museum is now open to the public with winter hours: Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and other days by appointment. Appointments can be arranged by calling the museum at 541-904-0585. Admission is free with donations gladly accepted. Visitors are asked to wear masks and use hand sanitizer until the coronavirus threat has subsided.

The museum is appropriately housed in the former George Wakefield bungalow, sporting a fresh coat of white paint with black trim, making it easy to spot right behind the statue of the outlaw horse. The owner of the house is Chris Boxwell, a local contractor, who offered the main floor of the house to the Three Sisters Historical Society to lease for their first permanent location. Boxwell made improvements to the house at his cost, which enhanced its suitability as a museum, and continues to be very supportive of their efforts.

The museum occupies two main exhibit rooms, a gift shop, an office, and probably the most fun bathroom (ADA) in Sisters, filled with antique treasures, including the original charter for the Sisters chapter of the International Order of Oddfellows. The two large rooms, one complete with a fireplace, will house frequently rotating displays.

The initial exhibit in the fireplace room features Camp Polk Meadow from the time of the Native Americans who passed through it on their annual travels, to Civil War soldiers who named it for their home Oregon county, and the homesteads of the Hindman and Fryrear families. In the corner of the room is an old console radio with a recording of Warm Springs Elder Wilson Wewa recounting the story of the origin of the local mountains.

The room across the hall is devoted to the early settlers of 1890-1920. Before it was the Lazy Z Ranch, the Cobb family built the Cobb Wayside which provided services for travelers over the Santiam Wagon Road. Liquor seemed to be ever present in Sisters, as evidenced in photos of original taverns and old bottles. A large photograph of early Sisters is labeled with the names of residents and businesses. Around on the walls are a collection of early photographs from that era, as well as old farm implements and branding irons from Sisters farms and ranches.

Since the popular Fireside Evenings have been postponed until large gatherings are again safe, a gift shop has been established as a fundraising effort for the museum. Local artists’ work, and vintage goods that have been donated, are currently available for purchase with a percentage of the sale price going to the museum. There is a lovely old round oak table and chairs in the shop to allow for a friendly chat with volunteers and visitors. Occasionally there are homemade muffins provided by volunteers. Earrings for sale feature vintage charms from old Cracker Jacks boxes. Bookshelves are loaded with books for sale having to do with Sisters and the greater Central Oregon region.

Since the disbanding of the Friends Book Corner at the library, the museum is carrying on the tradition of accepting book donations and making them available for sale, with proceeds helping to fund the operation of the museum.

When first established in 2017, the Three Sisters Historical Society stated as their vision, “to establish and develop a museum as a vibrant community center dedicated to the research, the education, and the appreciation of the history of the Three Sisters area.”

“Amazingly enough, and with the generous lease of the Wakefield House owned by Chris Boxwell, and donations and grants given by our supporters and community, our vision has been realized far sooner than expected and we hope it is received as a gift back to all of Sisters,” Swank told The Nugget.