On Saturday, August 12, 1972, as part of Junction City’s Centennial celebration, the Dr. Norman L. Lee House Museum was dedicated. It was one of the features of the Scandinavian Festival that year. This happened after an intense six months of renovation and collection of display items. Then in 1977, the Junction City Historical Society received word that the Dr. Norman L. Lee House had been entered in the National Register of Historic Places, the only building in Junction City so designated. The Lee House Museum has been open every afternoon and evening of the four-day Scandinavian Festival since that time.
In this museum visitors will find a collection of very early medical instruments and books used by Dr. Lee, Junction City’s first physician. Other Lee family items are also on display including dental and pharmacy items used by two of Lee’s sons – one a dentist and one a pharmacist.
Those interested in the Oregon Trail, Native American artifacts and early medicinal instruments will want to visit the museum, located north of Sixth Avenue on Holly Street. The upstairs boasts a room dedicated to the Oregon Trail and the pioneer lifestyle. Tools and farm equipment have also been added to the collection. The downstairs pays homage to the city’s early history, by displaying a variety of Native American artifacts, such as arrowheads and ceremonial costume pieces, much of it from the collection of the late Clarence Pitney.
By the time the railroad reached Junction City in 1872, the course of the Willamette River had already changed and it was no longer possible for the river boats to reach the wharves at Lancaster. Several of the homes and business buildings were put on skids and pulled by horses the two miles from Lancaster to the new town of Junction City – a division point for the Oregon and California Railroad (later the Southern Pacific; now Union Pacific). The small one-story portion of Dr. Lee’s house was one of those buildings. He then began building the two-story addition that would serve as his home, his office and even some “laying in” rooms.
The Mary E. Pitney House Museum, at Fourth Avenue and Holly Street; is another one of the oldest buildings in Junction City. Built just over a year after the city’s incorporation in 1872, the house has been restored and kept intact by the Junction City Historical Society.
One room of the house is furnished as a 19th century schoolroom, an upstairs bedroom is as it might have been when railroad men boarded there. There is also an office and reading room as well as the museum store. One room is designated “A Danish Room in an American House” which is filled with artifacts from the Danish settlers.
Mary Pitney, after her death at age 104 left her family’s house to the Junction City Historical Society. In her younger years, she traveled much of the country and the world teaching in Oregon and Washington. Pitney returned to her family home in Junction City and became one of the founding members of its Historical Society. The house was opened to the public in 1997, after a restoration process by historical society volunteers. The group has tried to maintain the house as a typical turn of the century home.
The museum is full of artifacts reflecting the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Junction City. The living room is still full of Pitney’s possessions, some of which had been in the family for more than a century.
Donated items such as an Edison upright phonograph and a Milton piano add to the historic allure of the house.
The room displays are still evolving. Artifacts which complement each room continue to be added. Kitty Goodin, the museum’s curator, believes that people appreciate such an authentic representation of the city’s history, even the more modern touches such as the mid-century chrome dinette set and the GE electric range.“We’re a bit like Grandma’s attic,” Goodin tells visitors. Older people like the opportunity to connect to their past, and younger kids watch their elders and become curious about these objects as well.
New in the Pitney House Museum this year is a map showing the locations of the nineteen schools that were consolidated to become Junction City School District 69. The historical society would like to find photos of all those old one- and two-room schools.
On the grounds is a small building that was Junction City’s first jail. The jail is the most recent attraction for the 130 year old house and draws a lot of attention. Restoration work has continued during the last four festivals. The shingle siding has been removed to expose the original 2×4 construction, a new roof has been put on and the inside is being refurbished. Iron work inside to make a cell was added last year and an outside door is work in progress. The jail was one of the first contracts the City of Junction City entered into, paying Thomas Humphrey $84.37 to construct the two-cell jail in May of 1873.
Both house museums are open from 1-7p.m each day of the Festival. Anyone with an interest in Junction City history is invited to join the Historical Society and help volunteer to keep such treasures as the Pitney House, and the Lee house alive in the 21st century. Information is available at both houses.
~ By Linda Van Orden