The Columbia River Maritime Museum was founded in 1962 when Rolf Klep, a native Astorian, returned to his birthplace after retiring from a successful career as a graphic artist on the East Coast. On his return, Klep – a longtime collector of maritime artifacts – and a group of his colleagues sought to establish a museum to preserve the rich maritime heritage of the entire Columbia River region. They envisioned a museum of national distinction.
Today, the Columbia River Maritime Museum’s reputation for the quality of its exhibits and the scope of its collections makes it one of the finest maritime museums in the nation. It was the first museum in Oregon to meet national accreditation standards, and has been designated the official state maritime museum of Oregon.
The Museum embarked on a $6 million expansion in October 2000, increasing its exhibit space to 44,200 square feet. The new space houses interactive exhibits that combine history with cutting-edge technology and numerous Museum acquisitions. On May 11, 2002, the Columbia River Maritime Museum celebrated completion of the expansion along with the Museum’s 40th Anniversary.
Six galleries, the Great Hall, and the Lightship Columbia interpret the Pacific Northwest’s rich maritime history. Visitors of all ages can experience what it’s like to pilot a tugboat, participate in a Coast Guard rescue on the Columbia River Bar, and live in Astoria during the height of salmon fishing. Huge windows along the north wall showcase the Columbia River as a dynamic backdrop for exhibits.