Try to imagine 12 million cubic yard blocks of concrete as the building blocks of the Grand Coulee Dam.
It’s tough to wrap your mind around, but a new exhibit rolling into the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum next week helps visualize what that looks like through a simple, yet effective, wood block. The exhibit covers the region’s relationship with the massive dam that harnessed the rivers flowing through the land.
But the exhibit doesn’t start here. It begins with Lake Missoula and the prehistoric ice dam that periodically broke, museum director Jayne Singleton said, releasing massive flood waters and shaping Eastern Washington’s scablands.
“That’s where our history started,” Singleton said earlier this week, showing off the final touches of the exhibit’s storyboard.
Some of the museum’s volunteers are constructing an interactive element that shows the path of Washington’s rivers before and after Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1942, and the dam’s impact on city infrastructure, farms and tribes. Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind Grand Coulee, helped irrigate more than 600,000 acres in the Columbia Basin Project, according to the dam’s website, even as it submerged traditional fishing grounds, farms and small towns. The display is also backed up by a folksy documentary about the dam featuring Woody Guthrie’s “Roll On, Columbia.” Singleton wants to remind the community of the engineering feat sitting in their own backyard. Building the exhibit only took about six weeks for Singleton, but the research took less because they’re recycling many of the Grand Coulee Dam pieces from previous presentations.
The newest section of the exhibit is the ice floods and how those moments in geological history connect to Eastern Washington’s rivers and the dam. The exhibit also sits on new wall structures that Singleton can move around in anticipation of future exhibits on the American Civil War, Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Co., and President John F. Kennedy.