RAYMOND — The wagons are rolling.
After a lengthy covid shutdown, leaders at the Northwest Carriage Museum in Raymond are delighted to have reopened the doors.
For institutions throughout the world, the pandemic’s one blessing was an extended period to clean and refurbish without visitors.
But the obvious downside was no income from admissions or gift shop sales.
Executive Director Laurie Bowman is eager to publicly thank supporters whose generosity has kept the museum afloat during the shutdown.
“They supported us during hard times,” she said. “People who would give us $25 or $35 were sending us $150. We were so pleased.” A couple of donors renewed their memberships and added $1,000. “People were supportive of us keeping history alive. It’s so overwhelmingly positive.”
The museum was subject to state-ordered health-safety closures during much of 2020. It reopened in March. Staff kept interest alive by hosting online gatherings while the building was closed. “We had people watching from New York and Florida,” Laurie Bowman said.
An enthusiastic board of directors guides the museum, which specializes in 19th-century horse-drawn carriages and period artifacts. But no one doubts core leadership comes from Bowman and husband Jerry.
The couple had lived in Southern California. Laurie Bowman worked in human resources consulting. Jerry Bowman was a history teacher before moving into senior executive roles. As a hobby woodworker, he enjoyed restoring antiques.
Eager for early retirement in an attractive Northwest setting — handy for cities like Portland and Seattle, but not in them — they discovered Raymond. “We just found our ‘paradise,’” Laurie Bowman said.
Transportation was key to the modern history of the Western United States. The museum opened in 2002 with 21 carriages from a private donor.
It has grown to a collection of 60 coaches and vehicles, so many that they had to seek grants to fund a $400,000 expansion in 2015.
Laurie Bowman had another role before being installed as director; Jerry Bowman is curator and president of the board.
“We love preserving history,” Laurie Bowman said, especially proud of the institution’s catchphrase, “Come Get Carried Away.”
Travel on the upswing
Jerry Bowman has rigs No. 61 and 62 in his shop, and hopes to finish the restoration of one for public display in coming weeks.
It normal years the museum is open 363 days, closed only on Christmas and Thanksgiving. 2019 was a record year with more than 10,000 visitors, cementing its claim as Pacific County’s largest tourism attraction. “We are back on record-breaking pace — people want to get out and travel,” Laurie Bowman said. “We used to think 25 people was a busy day. That’s a slow day! We see up to 40 to 50 people.”
Proud economic gains
Recent nearby additions include Alder and Co. and Elixir Coffee, which offer artworks, gifts and treats to create a hub on the south end of town. “We are so proud of that,” said Laurie Bowman. “It’s a ‘gateway to the community.’”
They point to the multiplier effect of visitors’ hotel, restaurant and other spending. “We are very proud of what we bring to the economy,” said Jerry Bowman.
A portion of government lodging tax revenue returns to the museum, which is funded by grants and donations as well as admission charges.
One promotion is a shop-and-save card that pairs museum membership with discounts at local stores, he said. “It’s had tremendous enthusiasm. It’s helping us, but it’s really helping the local economy. We are just so proud of that.”
A survey showed 86 percent of museum visitors travel 50 miles or more. Neighbors spread the word. “Locals realize what a gem we are and bring their relatives and out-of-town friends to the area,” Laurie Bowman said.
Jerry Bowman describes himself as a “sponge” for knowledge about history, especially the Civil War era. He will speak at an international conference for carriage enthusiasts in Washington, D.C., in January.
The Raymond collection may grow.
“We have such a reputation around the country that on any given month we get four to 10 calls from people restoring vehicles or people who say they have an old wagon in grandpa’s barn. I turn down probably 95 percent because I get so many calls.”