On the morning of September 17, 1988 several state, county, and city politicians gathered at the future site of the John Wesley Powell River History Museum. Together, with a small crowd of local community members, they held a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of what was designed to be a nationally relevant and culturally significant historical museum. At the ceremony, Green River’s mayor gave an impassioned speech on the city’s expectations for the new building, local community members performed the national anthem, and the event featured a melon bust to coronate the construction of what everyone hoped would be an economic boon to the local economy. The museum was an enormous undertaking, something that the community had been working towards for quite some time, and it was finally coming to fruition.
As early as 1987, members of the Green River community began reaching out to museum professionals, business owners, and politicians throughout Utah in an effort to gather information and support for the construction of a new museum facility that would highlight the historical and cultural significance of the Green and Colorado Rivers on the communities of southeastern Utah. Support came from senators, congressmen, local business owners, and even Robert Redford (a letter that must have caused quite a stir on the day that it showed up in the office!)
The grounds for the museum were donated by Betsy Hatt “in memory of Vail Hatt and his commitment to the betterment of the community and tourism.” By 1988, the city of Green River had been approved for funding to begin construction on a twenty-three thousand square foot museum facility with an expected cost of approximately $1.5 million dollars to construct. Owned and operated by the city, the John Wesley Powell River History Museum opened its doors in 1990 and has strived to achieve the early vision of its founding group ever since.
Green River’s mayor, ReyLloyd Hatt, hoped that the John Wesley Powell River History Museum would serve as the regional center of what they were calling a museum corridor in Southeastern Utah. Centrally located, and positioned on the highly used travel routes of Interstate 70 and Highway 6, this brand new twenty thousand square foot facility would highlight the whole region, and serve as a wayfinding point, directing tourists to all of the other museums within the region. More than just a visitor center, however, the focus of this new museum would be an exploration of the impact that the Green and Colorado rivers had on the history and culture of Southeastern Utah.
Understanding a need for support outside of the City of Green River, a group of organizers created the John Wesley Powell River History Museum, Inc. in 2008 to further promote the mission of the museum. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the museum corporation partnered with the city of Green River and originated the public-private partnership that exists between the museum and the city today. This partnership led to the hiring of the museum’s first full-time executive director, a commitment to strategic planning, and a renewed effort across the organization to reach new levels of professionalization.
In 2015, the museum reaffirmed its commitment to the river running community through its annual River Runners Hall of Fame induction ceremony and made a renewed commitment to the community of Green River to offer regular programs, local exhibitions, and a commitment to preserving the history of the region. As the organization looks to the future, we see big dreams and visions on the horizon. We hope to renew the excitement and passion among the local and national community that existed at the genesis of our organization. We hope to create a sustainable, purposeful, and welcoming space that will continue to convey the significant impact that the communities and landscapes of the Colorado Plateau had on the history of the West.