The Society began as an informal group in the 1930s, meeting in member homes. In 1949, its members joined the newly formed Kitsap County Historical Society as the Bainbridge Island branch. Elnora Parfitt was elected president and later became Museum Director. In 1971, the Bainbridge Island School District board voted to donate the former Island Center schoolhouse to the Society for use as a museum. The schoolhouse, built in 1908, was one of the Island’s last one-room schools in operation when it closed in 1923 and was moved to the high school to be used as a band and choir room.
The Bainbridge Island Park District gave the Society permission to move the building to Strawberry Hill Park, site of a former U.S. Army Nike missile base, built during the Cold War to defend the Bremerton Naval Shipyard from Soviet bombers.
It wasn’t long before the Museum was bursting at the seams with collections material donated from the community. In 1997, through the generosity of the McCracken family, a building was added to the rear of the schoolhouse for collections storage and workspace for the Museum’s curator and staff.
Though Strawberry Hill Park was a serene site for the Museum, many people could not access it with ease and a central location was sought. In 2003, the City of Bainbridge Island granted the Society a 90-year lease on a parcel of land on Ericksen Avenue one block north of Winslow Way in the Island’s downtown hub. In September, all of the Museum’s artifacts and material were packed up, and the staff was relocated to a temporary office a block north of the Museum’s future site.
In early 2004, the Museum’s two buildings were moved to the new site. We reopened to the public on August 28th, 2004!
From an informal group gathering in member’s homes, the Museum has grown to a staff of four, with membership of over 800, and a volunteer workforce of over 100 individuals.
The Museum today comprises a 1908 schoolhouse, home to long term exhibits, and an annex building housing our extensive research library, office space, amenities and a rotating exhibit gallery. An atrium lobby, gift shop and reception desk joins the one-room schoolhouse to our modern annex building. A 1,000 square foot climate-controlled basement provides collection storage and work space. We are now part of a cultural corridor along with City Hall and the Bainbridge Performing Arts playhouse in downtown Winslow. Come visit us and see who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going!