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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Campbell House adds visitor center in carriage house

At the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane, a 1915 Rauch and Lang electric car is part of the new exhibit in the Campbell House carriage house. (Jesse Tinsley)

When the Campbell House was finished in 1898 it of course came with a carriage house. Set back a little, to one side of the mansion, the carriage house was home to the family’s horses and carriages. Upstairs were a couple of bedrooms for the coachman and the gardener.

When the family purchased its first automobile it moved into the carriage house, and as the horses lost their use for transportation they moved out. And since the Campbell House was converted to a museum in 1960, the carriage house has been used a lot of ways.

“This building has literally been used for everything under the sun,” said Marsha Rooney, senior curator of history at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. “At one point it was home to the Art at Work program. Another time it was a latte stand.”

Now it’s reincarnated as the Campbell House Visitor Center serving two main purposes: connecting visitors to the area’s history by using the Campbell family’s changing transportation needs as a guide, and adding interactive displays and touch screens to help visitors create their own Campbell House experience.

“The touch screens is a great way for us to show some of the thousands of documents we have in storage,” said Rooney, about the sleek monitors mounted on the carriage house walls. “Also, for people who can’t make it inside the house, they can still see a lot of the rooms here.”

The horse stalls have been rebuilt, but instead of stately equines, they now house interactive exhibits such as harnesses that can be polished with saddle soap, and a yoke with two vegetable baskets that visitors can lift. Documents such as old checks written to the vegetable peddler and books kept of household expenses can be seen, too.

In the front room sits D.C. Corbin’s brougham, a lighter one-horse carriage, next to Agnes McDonald’s 1915 Rauch and Lang electric car. McDonald last registered and drove the car in 1952.

“We have been hearing all these stories about people who got rides from her, and about her parking right in front of The Crescent department store on the curb,” said Stephan P. Zacharias, Campbell House interpretation coordinator. “The car could go faster, but it sounds like she rarely drove it faster than 15 miles an hour.”

The exhibit takes visitors from the carriage to the car, and it also explains how trains and steamboats connected the Spokane area to the rest of the world.

When Helen Campbell made a trip to Europe it took her just 13 days to get to Paris – that was lightning fast 100 years ago.

Yet, her travel experience was most certainly different from that of Iris Nelson, who left her home country of Sweden in 1914 to join her sister in Whitefish, Mont. Nelson was the Campbells’ maid, and her immigration documents and letters to her family back in Sweden are part of the display.

The Visitor Center is a great place to set the stage before hitting The Campbell House holiday celebration. As always, the Campbell House is beautifully decorated with trees, lights and poinsettias. This year’s holiday celebration is set in 1910, and actresses portraying Helen and Grace Campbell as well as their cook, Hulda, will be interacting with visitors.

“It is real time 1910,” said Zacharias. “We went through old newspapers and found events and news stories that happened on those exact days. If you visit on Dec. 24, we will be talking about what happened on Christmas Eve 1910.”