WARRENTON — The Warrenton Visitor Center and Museum at the Youngs Bay Plaza closed Monday after the last shift of volunteer Diane Collier, the city’s unofficial historian.
Collier, 79, helped form the Warrenton-Hammond Historical Society three decades ago with her friend, Pat Williams. She has gathered a vast array of photos, books and other records documenting Warrenton and Hammond’s history.
“My history in Warrenton goes back before white people,” Collier said. “My great-great grandfather was the last chief of the Clatsop Indians.”
The society operated a historical museum in the Lighthouse Park near the intersection of Harbor Drive and Main Avenue in downtown. The museum moved to the Youngs Bay Plaza in 2011 after the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce stopped manning the visitor center.
Tracking the city’s history has been an old person’s game. The historical society disbanded quite some time ago, Collier said, and her corps of volunteers operating the visitor center dwindled to three.
The city owns the visitor center and leases the land from Atlas Investments, owners of the Youngs Bay Plaza. A clause in the lease requires the building be run as a visitor’s center or removed.
“Diane comes to coffee with the mayor pretty religiously,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said at a recent City Commission meeting. “She reported that the majority of people who come aren’t trying to check out what’s in Warrenton. They’re going to Seaside and Cannon Beach. They’re going south. They saw it. They stopped by.”
The building has substandard utilities and is not cost-effective to keep up or staff, Balensifer said. Commissioner Pam Ackley and Commissioner Mark Baldwin agreed that the city should let the site go. City Manager Linda Engbretson said she would let the property owners know the city plans to cease operations.
Collier has filled every nook and cranny — even the bathroom — of the building with photos and other memorabilia. She’s looking for a place to display at least part of the collection after the building goes away. The city has discussed taking on part of the collection.
“I’d rather leave them in Warrenton … if there’s a place that wants to display them,” she said. “If that doesn’t work, I’ll take it home and put it in my husband’s garage.”