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Tearing down the walls

New initiative aims to bring local history beyond confines of museum

TIDINGS PHOTO: LESLIE PUGMIRE HOLE - The History Without Walls program looks to build on popular events like the Living History Tour in an effort to enliven local history and provide more interactive experiences.When Roger Shepherd came up with the idea for the West Linn Historical Society’s latest initiative, he was inspired in part by the “Gallery Without Walls” art exhibition in neighboring Lake Oswego.

But he doesn’t want to give them too much credit, and indeed the historical society’s new “History Without Walls” program is very much its own entity. The idea is to encourage residents to experience local history beyond the staid confines of a museum — to bring life to history through “events, activities and online resources.””Looking at historical societies across the country, the majority do have a museum they operate, and that’s pretty much all they have time and resources to do,” Shepherd said. “The West Linn Historical Society — without having a museum, it frees us up to present and bring history to the community in a lot of different ways.”

He points to the society’s annual “Living History Tour” as a prime example of that ethos — participants dress in historical garb and act out various scenes from West Linn’s past.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: WEST LINN HISTORICAL SOCIETY - The History Without Walls initiative was announced March 8, and will be discussed further at the historical societys annual meeting April 17.

“But there will also be interpretive signage in the parks and around town where there are historical sites,” Shepherd said. “We’ll be making school presentations, and we’ve got a dramatic event we’re working on with the Adult Community Center and the library. It’ll be a series of plays.”

Those plays, tentatively scheduled for the fall, will be part of what the historical society calls, “an old-time radio project.”

“It will be like the old-time radio shows based in West Linn,” Shepherd said, “presenting the things that were going on back in the 1950s and stuff like that.”

Shepherd said that History Without Walls will also explore other avenues of presentation, from YouTube videos to newspaper articles and online posts to the society’s webpage.

“There’s a lot of ways of trying to bring history into the community without having a museum,” Shepherd said. “It kind of gives us an identity and identifies what we’re trying to do.”

Indeed, when the West Linn Historical Society was founded in 2014, creating a museum was far from the minds of local volunteers. What they prized instead was creativity and engagement.

“Our concentration isn’t so much on collecting things,” Shepherd said. “It’s more on presenting history in different ways, rather than just being able to view things.”

Interpretive signage will be a key facet of this effort, with the historical society targeting a number of hotspots like the McLean House, the Willamette meteorite location, Maddax Woods and Fields Bridge Park. The idea is for residents to learn about history while standing in the very places it took place; to that end, History Without Walls will also offer walking tours in the Bolton and Willamette neighborhoods.

“And then we’re going to try to work with other historical groups like the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation, Friends of Maddax Woods, Friends of the McLean House and create a large map of all the different sites where we have some kind of history being told,” Shepherd said. “There’s a number of different things around town we want to highlight where people can track it around.”

That brochure, in theory, would be available at places like City Hall and the historical society’s website.

Moving forward, the historical society will present ideas for History Without Walls at an annual meeting April 17. That will be a chance to gain feedback before members start reaching out to other organizations in hopes of forming partnerships on the project.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..