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At the turn of the century: Lynden Pioneer Museum offers a historic look at the small Washington tow

By Mike Brodwater for The Spokesman-Review

You have to love driving randomly through a town and several windmills are spotted. Some of the store fronts have a Dutch look about them. Near the east end of Front Street and the business district is a museum. You would enjoy a great unplanned visit to the Lynden Pioneer Museum.

Lynden is a small town, population 13,952 in 2016. It is in northwest Washington and a few miles south of the U.S.-Canada border. Lunch at the Dutch Mothers Restaurant serves authentic Dutch food such as pannekoek (pancakes), Dutch split pea soup and Dutch apple pie.

The town’s claim to fame includes one of the rare times in the world where the entrance to town is between two cemeteries. Lynden at one time held the world record for the most churches per mile and capita.

Lynden also is known for a tunnel dug under the border by drug smugglers. It is the only tunnel known to exist along the entire U.S.-Canada border. The region’s economy is based on dairy, raspberry, strawberry and blueberry farms.

Dairies formed a cooperative in 1904 with Darigold Corp., now with corporate offices in Seattle. The Northwest Washington Fair attracts more than 200,000 visitors. These distinctions provide an inkling for what to expect with a local museum visit. Still, you will be surprised.

The outside face of the museum looks like the building is not large inside. However, its original use was the sale and service of farm equipment including tractors and harvesters. It also had a blacksmith shop.

The 28,000-square-foot museum has three levels and a full basement and covers half a city block. The main floor includes a large center area open to the rafters with two floors rising around three sides of the center expanse.

The space has been designed to be what the main street of Lynden looked like at the turn of the 19th century. There are 22 store fronts on both sides of the street with merchandise and historical items inside. Retailers include a general store, pharmacy, soda shop and millinery.

There is an exhibit of dairy implements, of course, including several glass bottles used to deliver milk to homes. Before pasteurization and homogenization, the cream would separate and rise to the top of the bottles when retrieved on the doorstep in the morning.

There is a life-size farmstead with a barnyard depicting the late 1800s. Downstairs, which was the location where tractors and harvesters were serviced, there is still a large, sliding barn-type door to allow clearance for the farm implements to enter.

The doors are convenient because the basement exhibits 54 carriages, buggies, sulkies and wagons. This is one of the largest collections of horse-drawn vehicles west of the Mississippi. There also are four tractors, one threshing machine and eight antique cars on display.

The upper floors include toys, model trains and various Americana items. There are dentist and doctor offices, a saloon and a church, among other exhibits. Look for a 150-year-old pickle! There are 37,000 objects on display. I suggest setting aside two hours for a visit to the museum.


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