Scandinavian legacy: Ballard's Nordic Heritage Museum traces
roots of many Northwest families
December 27, 1998
Shana McNally; The Associated Press
The Nordic Heritage Museum pays tribute to the early Scandinavian immigrants and their
contributions to life in the Pacific Northwest.
Founded in 1980, it bills itself as the only museum in North America to honor the legacy of
immigrants from the five Nordic countries: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
Through stories, pictures and artifacts, visitors can travel from Europe across the Atlantic to Ellis
Island, then across the United States from the Midwest to the West Coast. The focus is on the
lifestyles of Scandinavian people and on their livelihoods: fishing, farming and logging.
Located in Ballard, the heart of Puget Sound's Scandinavian community, the museum is housed in
a 1907 red brick school building - former home to the Daniel Webster Elementary School, which
closed in the 1970s.
Sixty-five thousand persons a year take a self-guided tour that averages an hour, though much
longer for some. Visitors have included royalty, other dignitaries and ambassadors of the
"I think visitors of Nordic heritage come to learn, but non-Scandinavians also come to learn and
enjoy, too," said museum curator Lisa Hill-Festa.
There are four permanent displays and two rotating exhibits. The first floor is occupied by the
museum's original exhibit, "Dream of America: The Immigrant Experience 1840-1920."
Given to the museum by the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen, the exhibit describes the
plight of mostly rural Scandinavians from the beginnings of industrial development to immigration
to Ellis Island and then to the Far West.
The donated materials were augmented by the Nordic Heritage Museum to reflect the immigrants'
life in Ballard in the early days. There are re-creations of a post office, schoolroom, church and
other community fixtures.
The second floor is home to two permanent exhibits. "The Promise of the Northwest" focuses on
the fishing and logging industries, while two "Heritage Rooms" display costumes, textiles, tools
and other belongings carried by the settlers from their former homes.
"Nordic Heritage Northwest" on the third floor devotes one room to each of the five Scandinavian
countries. Each ethnic gallery illustrates the differences and bonds linking Scandinavian people in
the Pacific Northwest.
The larger rotating exhibit changes four times a year.
This spring it will house a show on Norse mythology. The smaller gallery changes eight times a
year, mostly exhibiting one-person shows.
With an annual budget of $500,000 a year, the museum functions with five full-time and three
part-time employees, plus the efforts of 200 volunteers who put in 21,000 hours a year.
The museum hosts three annual fund-raisers and receives donations from local Scandinavians and
grants from the Corporate Council for the Arts, Seattle Arts Commission, King County Cultural
Resources and the State of Washington Heritage Grant for funding.
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The Nordic Heritage Museum
Where: 3014 N.W. 67th St., Ballard.