Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Bellingham Railway Museum

The Covid-19 crisis has been particularly difficult for museums.  The Northwest Railway Museum has been able to survive - at least so far - with a combination of public and private grants and loans.  Other historical societies and museums have not been quite as fortunate.  

The Bellingham Railway Museum was established in 2003 and located in historic downtown Bellingham.  It was notable for its awesome model railway exhibits, and was popular with young families.  Yet despite significant local support, it could not survive the closure forced by the Covid-19 crisis.  In June, its Board of Trustees announced that the temporary closure would be permanent.  

In Washington State, non-profits are generally expected to designate a succession plan in the event of its demise.  During the dissolution of a nonprofit, the Washington State Attorney General has the final approval of the distribution of a organization's assets.  The Attorney General is interested primarily in seeing that the assets remain with an organization of similar purpose.

The Northwest Railway Museum was listed as the Bellingham Railway Museum collection's successor, and was contacted early in the summer about the dissolution.  The Bellingham group was located in rented space so the Museum worked quickly to inventory, pack and move the collection to Snoqualmie.  Volunteers and staff spent countless hours in Bellingham preparing for the move, packing more than 400 file record boxes.

The effort was led by Cristy L., the Museum's Registrar.  A museum registrar is responsible for implementing policies and procedures pertaining to collection care.  This includes maintaining a collection inventory, knowing where everything in a collection is located, and protecting every aspect of its well-being including environment and security. 

The demise of any museum is a community tragedy, and a loss to all involved.  Yet the Northwest Railway Museum is trying to make the best of it, and is immediately incorporating the best aspects of the Bellingham collection into exhibits in the Train Shed.  Initially, this includes the Lionel train set, a dining car china collection, several lanterns and signal lamps, and a series of posters.

The Museum extends condolences to the Volunteers, Trustees and Staff of the Bellingham Railway Museum and to the Bellingham community for their loss, and gratitude to former Bellingham Railway Museum Executive Director Shelissa G. for her invaluable assistance in helping with the transition.

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