In 1854, Daniel Richardson Bigelow and Ann Elizabeth White, both newcomers to Washington Territory, married and began their life together in the a two-room cabin Daniel built on his 640 acre parcel of land just east of Budd Inlet, across from downtown Olympia. Soon afterwards (sources vary on the actual year) they built their neat two-story Carpenter Gothic home where they raised their eight children. The home remained in the family for over 100 years.
The front half was constructed first and sits on a raft of charred cedar logs measuring 16”-18” in diameter. This was a common practice to preserve the wood from beetles and rot. The back half was added later (although it is not known how much later) and uses a more contemporary pier and pad construction method.
In 1871 the famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony dined at the Bigelow House while passing through Olympia on one of her lecture tours. A plaque outside the house commemorates the occasion, and family legend identifies one of the armchairs in the parlor as the one upon which Miss Anthony sat.
In 1905 Ann Elizabeth modified the room layouts, added the stairs in the library and substantially changed the old kitchen into a formal dining room and the milk room into the current kitchen. These remodels allowed the family to rent rooms to boarders and generate additional income.
There was another phase of renovation in 1950 after Ruth died. The rear kitchen was modernized and a hot water radiator system was installed.
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 retains BHPA’s original commitment to maintain Bigelow House as Olympia’s community museum.