The Anacortes Museum building is one of the most historic places in all of Anacortes, and it’s got quite the interesting history. Originally, the building at 1305 8th Street served as the first public library for the seaside town, and the funds to construct the library were donated by Scottish-American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Registered as a national historical place In October of 1977, let’s take a deeper look into the history of the Anacortes Museum Building.

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The W.T. Preston is located at the Anacortes Maritime Heritage Center. Photo credit: Kate Clark

Throughout the course of his life, Andrew Carnegie opened many libraries across the United States and the entire world. From 1883 to 1929, Carnegie opened over 2,500 libraries worldwide, the Anacortes Library was one of these 2,500. Its doors opened for the first time in 1910.

When built, like most Carnegie libraries, the construction team chose to add the elevated staircase. The elevated staircase is important because it symbolizes an “elevation by learning,” this furthered the sentiment that a library be a place one goes to heighten one’s knowledge and learning ability. The staircase is iconic, and a symbol easily recognized among the Anacortes community. Located at the facade of the building, the staircase beckons all eager minds into the building’s innerworkings.

Life as a Museum

Although founded in 1958, the museum didn’t call the old library building home until 1967. Anacortes museum functions as a part of the City of Anacortes, and is a department of the city.

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The Anacortes Museum was once a Carnegie Public Library, one of 2,500 libraries built by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Photo credit: Kate Clark

After ascending the staircase, you’re greeted with a few murals by artists Bill Michell. The first features the original librarian who ran the library and the second is a mural of Andrew Carnegie himself. It’s a great way to start your museum adventure, as soon as you ascend the building’s steps you are immersed in history and your learning journey begins.

Once inside the museum there’s a whole world of history just waiting to be discovered. The exhibits contain a plethora of information that will get you more in tune with the history of Anacortes and its surrounding areas.

Light shines through tall windows into the lobby area, thanks to former Museum Director Steve Oakley, it was his call to illuminate the inside of the building with natural light. Before Oakley made the decision, those tall windows were kept shut and had their light blocked out via boards and paint.

The museum features exhibits related to Fidalgo and Guemes Islands, including a photography exhibit featuring historical images of both Guemes and Fidalgo islands, giving us insight into the past and history of Anacortes and its surrounding areas.

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The W.T. Preston is the biggest historic artifact in the Anacortes Museum collection and is located a short walk away. Photo credit: Kate Clark

One of the museum’s other highlights is the National Historic Landmark vessel, the W.T. Preston, which is located a short nine-minute walk from the museum. The W.T. Preston is a sternwheel snagboat located at 7th and R Ave and is the muesum’s largest artifact. The boat features special collections and archives that can only be found aboard it. Being a snagboat, the W.T. Preston maintained and established navigable channels throughout western Washington. Before our railroads and roads were fully established, the W.T. Preston worked to create safe routes for individuals to travel on throughout the sound.

But where should you start your trip through the halls of Anacortes history? That’s the million-dollar question, but it doesn’t have to be one that is hard to answer. Why? Because you just start at the area that interests you most and then work your way around the museum as a whole!

It doesn’t matter if you want to start your journey at the main exhibit, or at one of the alternate exhibits such as the “Anacortes Presents” exhibit or the “At Home in Anacortes” exhibit, the reality is the museum is so captivating you’ll want to see everything there is to offer. Plus, all the information is contained within the old Carnegie Library, a standing testament to America’s industrial age.

The Anacortes Museum
1305 8th Street, Anacortes
Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 a.m. –  4:00 p.m.
Sunday: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

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