The History of Poulsbo Historical Society and Museums
The Poulsbo Historical Society was established in 1991 by a small group of long-time residents who were concerned about keeping the history and artifacts of early Poulsbo within the community. Early meetings centered around “chat” sessions where stories were told and recorded. Artifacts soon followed, and, without a building or museum, were stored in the basements and barns of members.
In 1992 the organization was offered a small storage room at city hall to use as an office and two storage units were donated to the society for artifacts. In 1996, with a board in place, a small office, and storage units brimming with artifacts, the board hired a part-time director to lead a collection inventory and put the organization on firm ground. Monthly meetings were held at the Sons of Norway with speakers when available.
In 2006 the City, with the aid of the Bight of Poulsbo, installed the historic Martinson Cabin in Nelson Park. The Historical Society volunteered to maintain exhibits inside the cabin with the promise of keeping it open for public viewing. It was our first attempt at operating a museum. The Martinson Cabin is now open on Saturdays for visitors and can be opened for special events by appointment.
The City’s centennial celebration of its incorporation in 2008 was a turning point for the Society. The Historical Society was asked to help with the planning and to put on a major exhibit for the town celebration. We responded with historical skits, exhibits, and videos for the town.
Meanwhile, we were outgrowing our small office, and a major roof leaking disaster required the removal of our office to a borrowed space in the Powder Hill Business Park. It was a wake-up call to find a home of our own. That chance came with the building of the new City Hall in downtown Poulsbo and a vacant area within the building which we were able to claim through a lease/purchase agreement with the city. We opened the Heritage Museum on the second floor of City Hall in January of 2011.
In 2014 a Maritime Collection was established with the idea of opening a Maritime Museum. As luck would have it, while exploring spaces that might work, a store-front on Front Street with 1,000 sq. feet of space became available. A collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce allowed us to have a Maritime Museum, a small area for a Visitors’ Information Center, and a gift shop. The Maritime Museum opened in the summer of 2015. A Capital Campaign launched in 2017 allowed the organization to purchase the building containing the museum and the adjoining lot for use as a boat yard. We presently collaborate with Visit Kitsap on the Visitors’ Information Center.
In 2020, we had the unexpected opportunity to purchase the historic Nilsen-Sonju house, next door to the Maritime Museum. With its Front Street location, historical status, and need for preservation, the house seemed like the perfect home for the Heritage Museum collection. By 2021, the Heritage Museum was relocated and slowly (due to Covid 19) opened to the public. Purchase of this historic Poulsbo home is still ongoing, and we welcome your support!
Our Archives Center is located on the second floor of Poulsbo City Hall, 200 Moe Street. The Center is the main climate controlled location for artifacts awaiting display and for accessioning new artifacts. It includes the rare books section of our Library. The work space for display storage and development shares this space with a large conference table providing meeting space for our Board, discussion groups and committees. The Archives is open by appointment by calling the Society office (360) 516-3975.
After 30 years, we are proud to claim four museum venues with two libraries, a boat yard, an active education/outreach program offering monthly speakers’ programs, research facilities in both the Maritime and Heritage museums, an informal genealogy group, educational activities for children on a monthly basis, and guided walking tours.
Poulsbo Historical Society relies heavily on volunteer help for all aspects of our organization and new volunteers are always welcome. As of 2022, we have part-time employees fulfilling the roles of education/outreach director, financial clerk, gift shop coordinator, and operations director. All other aspects of the organization are run by volunteers.
[History updated 2022]