Brief History

1977 Started by two local Moms with the motto: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” During that first summer, it lived in the Carnegie Library and included 5 exhibits (including a tour of the 5 senses and hands-on cartoon animation). That December, the new Wonder Works (named by a contest winner) moved to 201 Washington Street by the railroad tracks.

271983 Wonderworks moved to basement of Sawyer’s True Value (now St. Vincent DePaul). Entirely run by volunteers and local families, exhibits included a mock-up of the Space Shuttle; machines they could take apart and look inside (including typewriters, sewing machines, a piano and a phone system); dress-up clothes; a dentist’s chair; a book written in Braille; a real wheel chair; an old pitcher-pump attached to a barrel full of water; and an 8 ft, 30-pound male boa constrictor named Rebecca.

1989 The dark years. Wonderworks closed for 2 years due to a lull in volunteer support and financial difficulty. Knowing that most children’s museums were built on a rent-free foundation, a core group began the initial search for a permanent home.

1991 Although not their own building, Wonderworks reopened in downtown shop front at 419 E 2nd. The museum was then scaled back in 1996 to share the space with local business Balloonatiks.

282002 The board came close to finding a space for the museum by partnering with the Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District and several foundations to expand the old Booth House at The Dalles’ Thompson Park. Although the project ultimately conflicted with the park commission’s goal of providing green space for the city, the partnership did produce an important study about where to locate a successful museum in the future: downtown, off the main street, with adequate parking and large, open interior spaces.

2003 The museum closed and most exhibits were moved into storage while a collection of the best toys for younger kids (0 -5) were moved to a sunny room in the UUC Church to become today’s Playstation. Music & Me program was launched while programs and classes continued.

292006 Renewed search for a home began. We consulted with the Small Business Development Center at Columbia Gorge Community College and created a fundraising plan. Fundraising events included an annual Birdhouse Auction and a year-end pledge drive. Grant funds were also secured from local sources and support was established from many community and municipal organizations.

2009 A building was found! A 5,000 sq. ft structure at 206 Madison in downtown The Dalles – just a half block off 2nd Street with parking. We were able to move forward with the wonderful location with the generous support from The Port of The Dalles who is holding it for us while we complete our capital campaign.

2012 We celebrated our Grand Opening on October 20th, 2012! The museum is open 4 days a week with 2,000 sq. ft of wall-to-wall fun for 0-6 year olds. We are currently raising the money to complete the final purchase of the building and make the full conversions.

2015 The building at 206 Madison was purchased by Wonderworks and became our permanent home! Parking lot improvements and landscaping further integrate Wonderworks into the downtown The Dalles.

Thank you to everyone who made this dream become reality!