Two World-Class Chess Destinations

Goldendale, WA and St. Louis, MO

Chess set at Maryhill museum of art
Maryhill Museum chess sets on display. Photo by Glen Bledsoe on Flickr

Maryhill Museum of Art

The Gallery of International Chess Sets, Goldendale, WA

SItting alone on a cliff overlooking  the scenic Columbia River Gorge miles from any city is a surprising place to find a collection of amazing chess sets from all over the world. Yet this destination museum is well worth the trek for many reasons. First is its amazingly romantic location. Built at the turn of the last century by developer Sam Hill for his wife Mary, “Mary’s Hill” was an epic mansion with grand ideas. Originally planned as a sort of self-sustaining utopia for him and his wife, plans changed, morphing into a magnificent museum begun with 15 crates of artifacts donated and delivered in person by the Queen of Romania. 

In 1960, the museum director created a permanent display of chess sets collected from around the world. The collection now contains more than 400 uniquely created sets that are miniature works of art. Chess is one of the oldest games around with its history dating to a form of the game in 6th century India. The game evolved into a more recognizable game as we know it around the 16th century. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s that the world of chess came out of the home and began holding tournament competitions. At Maryhill, the range of sets on display is astonishing. The oldest sets date back hundreds of years, but the collection also includes more modern styles as well and are from all over the world.  

There are many reasons to visit Maryhill Museum, but the chess set collection is a perennial favorite with visitors. The collection is so fascinating with its variety of styles that span centuries. You marvel at the artistic craftsmanship needed to create each set. And it also becomes glaringly obvious how this one game has been loved and treasured across the globe. The world-wide interest in a simple board game shows just how much humans share  – including a love for a good game. 

Maryhill Museum of Art in spring
Maryhill Museum of Art
Chess set at Maryhill museum of art
Photo by Nick A. Zukin
Makonde chess set. Photo by Mary Harrsch on Flickr
19th Century Chinese set. Photo by Brandon on the Mandon on Flickr

The World Chess Hall of Fame

St. Louis, MO

Chess Hall of Fame in St Louis Missouri
Photo credit: The World Chess Hall of Fame

There is no question what you’ve found when you round the corner in the charming Central West End dining and shopping neighborhood of St. Louis. Faced with a gigantic wood sculpture of a traditional chess piece, you know you’ve reached the World Chess Hall of Fame. 

The giant chess piece by the front door holds the Guinness World Record as the largest piece ever created. It stands 14 feet, 6 inches tall and is 6 feet wide at the base. It was created using ¾” exterior grade plywood and was built by R.G. Ross Construction, a local business. It took 18 days to build and weighs more than 2,200 pounds. The smaller giant chess set at its feet are a bit easier to move and ready for you to come and make your move.

The Hall of Fame was created in 1986 by the U.S. Chess Federation and moved to St. Louis in 2011 into one of the many red brick residences that adorn the streets of St. Louis. The Hall of Fame is a nonprofit, aiming to educate visitors in a variety of ways including collecting chess sets and encouraging the continued love of the game with activities. For chess aficionados, you’ll find collections including photographs and scoresheets from tournaments played over a hundred years ago. The diverse chess sets on display rotates and might include sets owned by famous players, ones designed by famous companies including Tiffany, or humorous ones including a rivalry game between NBA teams the Bulls vs. Knicks. This combination museum and activity center hosts tournaments, family events, and has a unique variety to their displays to keep any chess lover happy.

Cruise the Columbia River Gorge to see the Maryhill Museum of Art:

Journey on the Columbia & Snake Rivers

Portland, OR to Clarkston, WA

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Cruise to St. Louis on the Mississippi River to see the World Chess Hall of Fame:

Upper Mississippi River Cruise: St. Louis – St.Paul

St. Louis to St. Paul

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Viking-America’s Great River

St Paul to New Orleans

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Grand Ohio River-American Heritage

St. Louis to Pittsburgh

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