That’s the English translation for the Lummi word “whatcom.” In Lynden, it’s no secret why the name was bestowed upon the area. But for Lynden Pioneer Museum director Troy Luginbill, calming noisy waters also involves wading through the town’s history, and taking into account each individual voice to get the full story of this lovely little town.
Established in 1976 during the United States’ Bicentennial, the Lynden Pioneer Museum resides in a building that was originally the North Washington Implement Dealer and blacksmith shop, established in 1913. A set of massive barn doors and ceiling hitches still hang in the basement where mechanics would haul in tractors and carry them through the building to be serviced. Owned by the town of Lynden, the building is well maintained with a rich history, and the perfect spot to showcase the industries and people that helped make Lynden great.
The primary purpose of acquiring the building was to house the famous Polinder Buggy Collection, which consists of 48 vintage buggies, cars, carriages, and even the original Lynden Fire Department fire engines. The Polinder family initially showcased the collection of approximately 52 vehicles in their family barn, but after losing a few vehicles in a tragic fire, decided it best to place the buggies into a permanent collection.
It’s now the largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles west of the Mississippi River. “It represents a unique aspect of American history that’s no longer practiced,” says Luginbill.
The collection is a fascinating testament to the rapid technological and cultural developments of the 19th and 20th centuries, which Luginbill says are among the most pivotal in all history.
The Pioneer Museum’s front room is home to exhibits that feature pioneer and pre-pioneer life, agricultural history, Native American culture, Victorian life, and, by popular demand, and emphasis on local military history from the Civil to Gulf Wars. The attractions are always growing; the museum receives about 800 donated pieces per year, largely archival information and family histories.
“Whatcom County is a collector’s paradise,” says Luginbill, who’s grateful for the impressive collections he receives from donors.
An important piece visitors cannot miss is the replica of pioneer-era downtown Lynden. Added to the museum in 1984, it features life-like storefront exhibits representing important businesses in the town’s history.
You can hear the creak of old boards as you walk across the wooden sidewalks, or take an up-close look at the Lynden Tribune’s original, massive linotype machine—so large that the exhibit was built around it.
Sit and chat at the Cozy Café, a vintage mom-and-pop diner, or examine the fascinating history of the Lynden Department Store and how it shaped the local economy during the Great Depression.
Looking upwards in the open lobby, you can see another fascinating piece of Whatcom County history: old wooden rafters, repurposed from the Pacific American Fisheries cannery. Venturing to the third floor, you can find impressive collections of vintage artifacts and toys, and learn about the donors behind them.
While many of the exhibits are display-only, guest will have the chance in October to experience live history at the museum’s annual Open House. During this event, the exhibits on the model Front Street are opened, and guests can interact with costumed presenters and quiz them on their history knowledge.
The museum also offers event space, hosts school tours and presentations, and hosts cemetery tours on the last Saturday of every month at the Lynden Cemetery.
Thanks to the hard work of staff, museum volunteers and donors, the history of Lynden continues to unfold. And history is witnessed by several viewpoints, and not a singular story, it’s imperative to have the voices of everyone represented.
If history is your passion, sign up to volunteer. The Museum is always looking for exhibit designers, interns, docents to greet visitors, and help with special events like the Lindy 500, the annual soap-box derby. Anyone over 14 can volunteer, but must bring a parent if under the age of 18. The Museum is aided by over 100 volunteers per year, and couldn’t thrive without them.
“Volunteers are what make the museum. They’re not just the heart and blood—they’re the heavy lifting power,” says Luginbill.
With three floors of collections, coming from all across Whatcom County, north Skagit County, and the San Juan Islands. Luginbill says you can easily immerse yourself in the exhibits for two hours, and guarantees you will find something that excites you.
“Start where you’re most excited to start,” he urges first-time visitors, who can feel overwhelmed by the space. “Where does that story connect with you?”
For more information on exhibits, events, or volunteering, please visit the Lynden Pioneer Museum website.