Brad Richardson is new to his executive director position with the Clark County Historical Museum (CCHM), but he’s not new to a love of area history.  He wants everyone to feel this connection with the past. His desire is to facilitate a collaboration that will bring people in touch with Clark County history in a way that fosters a sense of belonging and excitement for what came before.

Roots in Camas and Washougal

Clark County Historical Museum Brad Richardson
Brad Richardson, Clark County Historical Museum Director, explains the importance of SP&S Railroad history. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

Richardson, his wife Katie, an RN, and their two young children live in Orchards. But Richardson grew up in eastern Clark County and went to school in Washougal and Camas. He recounts a time when things were simple and going to Vancouver to shop at the mall was a big deal. He recalls, “Vancouver was the big city.”

Richardson began his career in business management, but, after looking at what he really wanted to do, returned to school in 2010. Brad shares, “What I really was interested in was history.” He earned a bachelor’s degree in history and then continued for a master’s in public history at Portland State University.

Finding the Stories: Clark County Historical Museum

Richardson found opportunities within the walls and programs of the old 1909 brick Carnegie Library Building on Vancouver’s Main Street. In 2010 he volunteered with the Clark County Historical Museum’s Harvest Day event and became an intern in 2011. It was at this time that Richardson got interested in researching the buildings in Vancouver. But it wasn’t just about the brick and mortar. It was about the people. Richardson explains, “I wanted to discover who the people were. I got really good at sleuthing and finding the deeper stories. I pulled at the threads of history and learned more each time.”

Clark County Historical Museum Brad Richardson
The Clark County Historical Museum is housed in a former Carnegie Library on Main Street in Vancouver. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

I first met Richardson when he was leading walking tours of Vancouver for the museum. He had an engaging way of pointing out the social history as we stopped and looked at the buildings. I found out where the streetcars went and some of the intriguing stories about the people that lived in the homes I drove by daily. Richardson draws you into the stories. At that point his title was “Museum Experience Coordinator,” but I have to point out that we had these walking experiences outside the walls of the museum. That was the way it was designed to be.

Once Richardson had his master’s degree, he became a museum curator, and then, in August of this year, he was hired for the director position.

A Changing Museum

As I walked through the exhibits at CCHM with Richardson, I began to see them through his eyes and realized the importance of each collection on display. Right now visitors can delve into the importance of railroad history through the Spokane, Portland and Seattle (SP&S) exhibit called All Aboard!: Clark County Rides the Rails.

Clark County Historical Museum Brad Richardson
You can wander through railroad history at the museum’s SP&S display. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

Trains, train memorabilia and the people behind them are the focus. And, Richardson explains, “We are honoring the SP&S Railroad Historical Society who developed this collection.” This group carefully built displays and increased everyone’s awareness of the importance of the railroad’s identity in Clark County. The railroad was one of the biggest employers and brought importance to Vancouver as a rail hub.

Richardson actually worked with the group to put together the displays and ensure that some are interactive. It’s worth a look. Most people today don’t know about the SP&S and the people behind it. I learned that our Columbia Credit Union grew out of the SP&S Credit Union. I learned that the story of the railroad is a story of perseverance.

In another room, the voices of area Native Americans spoke from a video as I walked around admiring the amazing beadwork, both from past generations and current bead artists from across the Northwest Coast, Plateau and Plains regions. Making Beauty is a beautiful exhibit that weaves history and Native culture into a colorful show of skilled beadwork. It’s also an exhibit that will be ending, making way for a new type of experience at CCHM. I learned from Richardson, that the museum has an extensive collection of Native American artifacts and art.

Clark County Historical Museum Brad Richardson
This traditional beadwork, part of the Native American beading display at the museum, was done by Jackie Larson Bread (Blackfoot) and is actually an iPad case. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

In the works is a collaboration with the 40th Anniversary of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, which will be an innovative look at music, musical instruments and musicians from the past and not-so-past times of Clark County. The celebrated Covington piano, the first ever piano in the Pacific Northwest, will be further restored and on display as part of the exhibit. The Covingtons, both teachers, brought the piano from England to Vancouver to teach music to the children of the Hudson’s Bay employees.

And, since Richardson is a musician himself, look for some of his instruments and record collection to be included. As part of the exhibit, you’ll be able to sit down and play instruments. It promises to be very interactive and exciting.

Expanding and Networking Throughout Clark County

Richardson’s role as a facilitator of programs and initiatives is to meet the needs of the community. He works with the museum board, volunteers and community to assess needs and develop programming.

The direction of the museum is to best represent the whole of Clark County. Richardson explains, “We must reach out to more of the county, to develop partnerships with other historical museums and associations.” Shared programming and historical walking tours in places like Ridgefield, Camas and Battle Ground are coming next May.

Clark County Historical Museum Brad Richardson
In the basement of the Clark County Historical Museum is a research library. Brad points out the detail in this early guide to the buildings in downtown Vancouver. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

The Clark County Historical Museum has much expertise to offer the area communities, and there is much Clark County history to be shared with the public.

“We want to represent all of our county, including the unique character of each area,” Richardson explains. It is through this broader engagement and innovative programming to engage the public that CCHS hopes to make history more “user- friendly” and interactive. Everyone has a story to tell, and all history is valuable in putting together the pieces of the past.

Richardson hopes these efforts will engage more people with our past. And, once people are engaged, they become more connected as a community and better stewards of the place we call home.

Clark County Historical Museum
1511 Main Street, Vancouver
Open: Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
First Thursdays
First Fridays

Museum Admission:
$5 for adults
$4 for seniors/students
$3 for children
$12 for families (2 Adults + 2 Children)


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