On my recent road trip to Boise I spent a night in Pendleton, Oregon. I arranged my driving days on the trip so that I had time for sightseeing, either along the way or after getting checked in at motels and before it got dark. Since my trip was in November after we turned clocks back that was a pretty narrow window, so I could only choose one place to go in each town.
From studying a map before my trip I thought I would be checking out the Riverwalk in downtown Pendleton because parks and park-like public spaces are my thing. But when I arrived in town the Riverwalk didn’t look anything like I’d expected from what I could see of it while driving by.
On my way to the motel I also drove by the Heritage Station Museum, which hadn’t been on my radar at all. But it looked park-like and piqued my interest, so that’s where I headed after getting checked in at the Rugged Country Lodge on the far edge of town. (Nice little motel if you’re ever staying here overnight.)
I didn’t have a lot of time. I arrived at the museum at 3:05 pm and it closes at 4 pm. The docent who was at the desk to take my admission fee was very friendly and eager to answer any questions I had.
The main part of the museum is in two buildings. The building with the museum entrance is a modern brick structure built specifically for the museum in 2003. It is connected to the old railway depot and was designed to seamlessly blend in with it. The new building has the desk where you pay the admission fee, a small giftshop, and a few exhibits in the hallways. It also houses the administration offices, storage, and meeting rooms.
The other main building was originally the Pendleton train depot, built in 1909. There are two large rooms in that section. The first was empty when I was here, only containing a couple of informational signs about an upcoming exhibit. I assume that room houses rotating exhibits and I was unlucky to be here in between.
The second room houses permanent exhibits and has all kinds of interesting things to look at. There’s also a tiny theater with a 20 minute video about the Oregon trail and settlers in Umatilla County you can watch. It’s on a continuous loop so you can pop in whenever convenient on your visit. I didn’t have time for it though, so can’t comment on whether it’s worthwhile.
(Sorry about the yellow color cast in the indoor photos. As usual, I forgot to adjust my camera’s white balance!)
Much of the museum is outdoors and that is what attracted my attention when driving by. If you go out the back door of the main museum you’ll see a wide paved walkway going down the length of the building. There are a couple of park benches and a restored wagon along here.
At the end of the walkway the grounds open up to a small amphitheater and an old Union Pacific caboose. I assume educational programs are held at the amphitheater in warmer weather. There are two park benches near the amphitheater.
You can go inside the caboose, but it does have steps for entrance, so those in wheelchairs or heavily relying on walkers are out of luck. (Three steps up to a deck and then the two railway car steps.)
Beyond the caboose is a small brick building, which I believe was the signal house for the old train station. The exhibits inside are focused on military history and include info about local people who fought in World War II and displays of old military equipment.
Past the signal house the paved walkway curves around to a section with two buildings and a windmill. There are a couple of park benches in this area also.
The first building is the Fix Cabin which has been relocated here. A box near the door has a button you can push to hear audio information about the cabin. There is a low step up to the house porch and then another step up at the door sill, so wheelchairs may have trouble.
You can go inside the cabin to see displays of household items of the era and what the living conditions were like. It’s cramped because there is only a narrow walkway between two chickenwire barriers that are there to prevent people from touching or taking the exhibits. This ruins photography and makes it more difficult to pick out details, but it’s all still very interesting to look at.
The last building in this section is a barn. I believe it was built from actual barn wood from the area, but the building itself is a replica, not an original building that was relocated here. The barn entrance is level, with no steps, but you can’t go far into the building. It is fenced all across the front and you can just look in, like in the cabin.
There is one other building that I didn’t have time to see on my visit. It’s at the other end of the museum grounds on the far side of the depot. It’s the Byrd School, a tiny white, one-room school house. There is one step up to the small porch for this building.
Beyond the school house is Museum Park. The park is a narrow strip of lawn between the railroad tracks and parking lot with some nice shady trees, an Oregon Trail kiosk, benches, and picnic tables. No fee is required for access to this area.
As small town museums go Heritage Station Museum in Pendleton is a pretty decent one, with added interest because of the historic buildings on the grounds. I very much enjoyed my visit even though museums normally aren’t a big draw for me.
I really appreciated the park-like design of the grounds and the fact that there were plenty of places to sit in between looking at exhibits so that I could rest my bad knee and hip. This makes the museum more accessible than most for those with mobility issues who are on foot, but steps are a barrier to wheelchairs in a few places.
Things to Know
Open Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
10 am to 4 pm
$4 seniors 62+
Children 5 and under free
Time to Allow
If you’re the type who prefers to breeze through and just take a quick look at the things that catch your interest and you don’t need much in the way of bench rest stops you can do it all in 45 minutes to a bit over an hour.
If you like to take your time, look at everything, read all the info, watch the video, etc. then I’d suggest setting aside between 1.5 and 2.5 hours.
Park benches in several places on the museum grounds.
Old train depot bench in the second exhibit room in the depot building.
Inside the new addition where the museum entrance is.
Large lot with a few handicapped spaces. Parking is free.
It should be easy to find a space unless a special event is going on.
Pendleton can be a rather confusing town to navigate. The town is split by railroad tracks, has a lot of dead-end and one-way streets, and several of the streets join each other in unexpected places and ways.
The Heritage Station Museum is on a one-way street so may take some extra maneuvering to get to depending on which part of town you are coming from.
I highly recommend picking up the tourist brochure that includes a street map. I got mine in the office at my motel. I normally have an excellent sense of direction and ability to navigate around strange places, but in Pendleton I really needed that map!