Prineville museum to expand its exhibit space
By KYLE SPURR -- Read this article @ The Bulletin
Prineville’s A.R. Bowman Museum is planning a major expansion that would convert an old pharmacy building next door into an exhibit center.
The new center would house rotating exhibits related to the history of Crook County and Central Oregon, similar to the variety of exhibits offered at the High Desert Museum south of Bend.
“Our museum is not really set up to do changing exhibits,” said Sandor Cohen, director of the Bowman Museum. “In order to increase visitation, you want to have new exhibits from time to time so people will come back.”
The Bowman Museum bought the Hans Pharmacy building in 2016 and has since raised more than $800,000 to transform it into an exhibit center. The museum staff is working with the Crook County Historical Society to decide how to renovate the old building on Third Street.
Cohen said the plan is to either renovate the existing building with a new facade or demolish the building and build a new structure.
“The good news is we have raised enough money to do either one,” Cohen said. “It’s just a question of what people prefer.”
Construction is expected to start early next year and could be completed by next fall. To finish the project, the museum is raising additional funds for construction costs and to bring traveling exhibits to the new center once it’s open. People can donate online at www.crookcountyhistorycenter.org or at the museum at 246 N. Main St.
The Hans Pharmacy building has a long history in Prineville, and if it is demolished it will be rebuilt with the same historic architecture, Cohen said. Prior to the pharmacy, the building was a gas station and a Dairy Queen. It was originally owned by Dr. Horace Belknap, the first doctor in Prineville in the late 1800s.
Restoring or replacing the old building is the latest step in creating a historical hub in downtown Prineville, Cohen said. The exhibit center and museum are near Caboose Park, which features a 1940s-era caboose that was used by the Prineville Railway until 1979.
“Right here in the center of town, on the corner of Main Street and Third Street, we have what really constitutes a cultural district,” Cohen said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bowman Museum was averaging about 20,000 visitors per year. Cohen believes even more visitors will be drawn to the constantly changing exhibits in the new center and modern displays that will make the exhibits more inviting.
“The idea is to have different types of exhibits, largely featuring modern state-of-the-art displays,” Cohen said. “Things like interactive exhibits and immersive environments where you actually go into a certain time and place to give people a real feel for the history.”
Jan Anderson, president of the Crook County Historical Society, said she sees opportunities for exhibits that celebrate the natural history of the region, such as the various rocks and minerals, and some of the area’s oddest history. Specifically, the historical society would be interested in an exhibit that highlights the controversial Rajneeshee commune in Wasco County in the 1980s.
The range of exhibits would help bring back local residents who only come to the museum when they have visitors in town, Anderson said.
“It gets the local people through there again,” Anderson said.
Having a new exhibit space will also let the museum display items that have been stuck in storage. The museum has a basement and several closets full of historical items, and a space at the fairgrounds for storage, Anderson said.
“We are filled to the gills,” she said. “There is currently no way of displaying what we have because we don’t have room.”
Anderson can’t wait to go through the storage areas and see what can be displayed in the new exhibit center. People who donated items to the museum may finally see them on display, she said.
“They donated it, and it disappeared into one of our closets,” Anderson said. “They have never seen it again.”