I grew up in Corvallis, one block from Oregon State University, near the chemistry building, Gilbert Hall. There wasn’t a lot to do in town for a kid, but I always knew that the Horner Museum was a good place to spend my free time.
As I look back, I realize these visits to the museum were catalysts for my interest in learning. I loved the stagecoach, the old cars, the stuffed moose and cougar, the numerous tools of early pioneer life, the Native American artifacts, and items from all over the world donated to the museum by many OSU professors and their families. These were pre-television days, so most of the exciting things to see were in books or museums.
For me, the best display in the museum was the “glow in the dark rocks.” This was a small booth with a thick velvet curtain and a black light inside. In this booth, about two dozen rocks were on display, which in normal light looked like any old rocks. Under the ultraviolet light, the chemicals in those rocks would appear as fantastic colors — bright yellows and blues and reds. The calcium compounds, like calcite, turned greenish yellow, or even violet or purple. In this magical black light room, I discovered that everything was made up of various elements. I became fascinated by metals, with the mystical phenomenon of magnetism (iron), heaviness (lead), fluidity (mercury), and, of course, conductivity (copper wire which would conduct electrons to activate little light bulbs or motors).
Then in fifth grade, I received a chemistry set for Christmas. Today, that set would probably be considered too dangerous to sell, but I remember following the instructions to make reactions that fizzed and smoked and made heat and stinky smells. A dream come true for any young kid!
About this time, my fifth grade school teacher at Franklin School, Mr. Bruce, encouraged his students to enter the local science fair. I decided to collect a specimen of every element that I could find on the periodic table. Some of the OSU chemistry professors were very kind to me in my search for every element. Drs. Dar Reese, Max Williams, and Wade Meeker all helped me find samples of almost every element, except, of course, the radioactive ones and the gases. I ended up with 60 or 70 elements to show off at the science fair.
I tell this story to give credit to the Horner Museum for tweaking my youthful interest in science and history. A trip to this museum was a true adventure in my quest to know “how everything worked.” I probably went to the Horner Museum over 50 times as a child.
Corvallis currently has no museum. Our local collection has been in storage for over two decades. A generation of youth has missed out.
Now things are about to change. Construction has started on a beautiful museum at Second and Adams Street, right between the new Marriott Hotel and a well-preserved piece of history, Robnett’s Hardware Store. The museum will be a place for frequent visits. There will be rotating exhibitions to share with friends, family and visitors so they can gain an appreciation of the history and culture of this area. You can be part of this project.
Please consider a generous donation to the museum. Fundraising over the last several years has raised 95 percent of this $9.5 million project with about $450,000 remaining. Your donation of $100 or $250 or $500 will contribute to this vital and important community treasure.
To make a donation, either go to the website, bentoncountymuseum.org, or call 541-929-6230.