Bigelow House – History

Bigelow House - Color

Bigelow House

Daniel Richardson Bigelow was born in 1824 in New York State. In 1851, two years after reading law at Harvard, he crossed the Oregon Trail. After a short stay in Portland he traveled to the pioneer settlement of Olympia in late 1851. He soon established a law practice, filed a 160 acre Donation Land Claim east of town, and threw himself into local politics.

Ann Elizabeth White was only 14 years old when her family came west from Wisconsin in 1851. They settled on Chambers Prairie southeast of Olympia and by 1853 Ann was employed as a school teacher in the Packwood home in the Nisqually Delta area near Olympia, one of the first teachers in the territory.

1854 Bigelow wedding portraitIn 1854, Elizabeth and Daniel married and began their life together in the two-room cabin Daniel built on his land claim just east of Budd Inlet, across from downtown Olympia. Soon afterwards they built their neat two-story Carpenter Gothic home where they raised their eight children.

Daniel was among the first settlers to call for the separation of Washington from Oregon Territory. He served as a Councilman representing Thurston County in the Washington Territorial legislature from 1854-56 and as a Representative in 1871.  He also held a number of other public offices during his long career.

He and Elizabeth were devout Methodists and helped organize the Methodist Episcopal Church in Olympia. They were lifelong proponents of public education, rights for non whites, women’s suffrage and temperance.


Bigelow House History
Produced in 1992 to solicit support for creating Bigelow House Museum 


Bigelow House Preservation Association

In 1992 friends, neighbors and supporters of local history formed the non-profit Bigelow House Preservation Association (BHPA) to preserve and protect Bigelow House and continue the family’s long commitment to sharing their story and the house with the public.

BHPA purchased the house from descendants Daniel and Mary Ann Bigelow in 1994 and undertook an extensive restoration of the interior and exterior of the house to its territorial-era appearance. In 1995 Bigelow House opened to the public as a museum, interpreting the family’s story as a window on the larger history of the Olympia community, Washington State, and the Pacific Northwest.

Terms for purchase and preservation of Bigelow House included an unusual life-estate agreement. After renovation, Daniel and Mary Ann continued their residence in the house in private rooms while the main floor hosted public tours.

Since the conclusion of the life-estate agreement  in 2005, Bigelow House is fully open as a museum, hosting school tours, tourists, researchers, and events.  In late 2013 BHPA merged with the Olympia Historical Society.  The combined organization retain BHPA’s original commitment to maintain Bigelow House as Olympia’s community museum.