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History of Olympia, Washington

[Captured from Wayback Machine from deleted City of Olympia website pages]


Native Roots

Located on the southernmost point of Puget Sound, the peninsula known as Olympia was Steh-Chass to the Coastal Salish who occupied the site for many generations before the American settlement was established.

The end of what we now know as Budd Inlet was a favorite shellfish gathering site for many Coastal Salish tribes, including the Nisqually, Duwamish and Squaxin. Potlatches, the Northwest tribal custom in which tribal leaders shared their wealth with neighboring tribal groups, were held both east and west of the Inlet near Olympia.

The falls of the Deschutes River at Tumwater called “Stehtsasamish” by the Nisqually Indians may have been occupied as a permanent village site for shellfish and salmon harvesting for 500 years or more before the coming of white settlers.

Historic photo. Frontier family in front of old growth tree

European Settlement

Peter Puget and a crew from the British Vancouver Expedition visited the site in 1792. The U.S. Exploring Expedition under Lt. Charles Wilkes came to the site in 1841 and named the waterfront bay Budd Inlet after Midshipman Thomas A. Budd, a member of that expedition.

More about Budd Inlet
A wide, navigable body of water extending north from Olympia about six miles to Boston Harbor. The inlet is shallow at its southern end and requires dredging of a channel for waterborne commerce. Budd Inlet was named by Lieutenant Commander Charles Wilkes for Thomas A. Budd acting master of the Peacock and a member of the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1841. Budd was appointed a midshipman on February 2, 1829. He resigned his commission on April 29, 1853. He rejoined the United States Navy in 1861 and was killed in action March 22, 1862, during the Civil War. In recent years, the inlet has also been called Olympia Harbor.


The first American settlers were Levi Lathrop Smith and Edmund Sylvester who claimed the town site in 1846, naming it Smither or Smithster (and later Smithfield), after themselves. The town was officially platted in 1850 by Sylvester, at which point it was given the name Olympia, as suggested by Isaac N. Ebey, a local resident in recognition of the view of the majestic Olympic mountains seen to the north on a clear day. Sylvester, a Maine native, laid out a town in a New England style with a town square, tree lined streets, land for schools, a Masonic Hall, and capitol grounds.

The first American settlers were Levi Lathrop Smith and Edmund Sylvester who claimed the town site in 1846, naming it Smither or Smithster (and later Smithfield), after themselves. The town was officially platted in 1850 by Sylvester, at which point it was given the name Olympia, as suggested by Isaac N. Ebey, a local resident in recognition of the view of the majestic Olympic mountains seen to the north on a clear day. Sylvester, a Maine native, laid out a town in a New England style with a town square, tree lined streets, land for schools, a Masonic Hall, and capitol grounds.

More about Edmund Sylvester
Edmund Sylvester

Edmund Sylvester is known as the founder of Olympia. A native of Eastport, Maine, Sylvester came to Oregon in 1843 at the young age of twenty-two. He remained in the Astoria-Portland area for two years but, being a native New Englander, he felt that the salt water climate would restore his ailing health. Sylvester took up a claim south of Olympia and his partner, Levi Lathrop Smith, whom he had met in Oregon, settled in what is now known as Olympia.

After Smith’s death in 1848, Sylvester, although owner of the area, did not lay out a town until his return from an ill- fated trip to the California gold fields in 1850.

Sylvester was a far-sighted man visualizing his settlement as a capital and center of timber trade although it did not reach its full potential in his lifetime. Sylvester erected the showplace of early Olympia along Capitol Way between Seventh and Eighth Streets facing the water. The home was the largest in Olympia and Sylvester’s strong-minded wife Clara hosted the first meeting of the Woman’s Club there in 1883 and housed a number of visiting suffragettes during the fight of Washington women for the right to vote. The house remained a landmark for many years but was moved in 1961 and later burned.


Drawn to the small peninsula as the first access to Puget Sound from the Columbia River on the Cowlitz Trail, American settlers numbered 996 in the area by 1853. Olympia welcomed the first Custom House on Puget Sound in 1851, and by 1852 was the county seat for the newly organized Thurston County.

More about Thurston County
Thurston County covers 719 square miles at the head of Budd Inlet located at the southern tip of Puget Sound.At the Cowlitz convention in 1851, delegates from the Oregon Territory north of the Columbia River — besides petitioning for a new territory — also asked for a new county to be called “Simmons” in the area then known as Lewis County. The Oregon Territorial Legislature acted on the matter by amended the bill at the request of Michael T. Simmons to memorialize Samuel R. Thurston, Oregon’s first territorial delegate to Congress. Thurston County was created on January 12, 1852. Oregon then encompasses what is now Washington. Thurston was a native of Maine, born in 1816. He attended Maine Weslyan Seminary, Dartmouth and in 1854, graduated from Bowdoin College. He later read law and was admitted to the Maine bar. After he settled for a time in Iowa, Thurston arrived in Oregon in 1847 and began his political life. With the creation of Oregon Territory in 1849, Thurston was elected its first delegate to Congress. He was an ambitious delegate pushing through the Donation Land Claim Law, working to establish mail routes and post offices, lighthouses and procuring a pension for 1812 War veterans, many of whom settled in the territory. He was an eloquent speaker and was tireless in his promotion of Oregon Territory. On his voyage home in 1851 across the Isthmus of Panama, Thurston — just 35 years old — contracted a fever. He died on the steamer California near Acapulco and was buried there. He was later reinterred in Salem, Oregon.


The boundaries of the new county encompassed much of what is now Western Washington, reaching from Willapa Bay northward to the Canadian border and from the Pacific Ocean to the summit of the Cascades.

In late 1852, Jefferson, Pierce, and King counties were carved out of Thurston County, and the final boundaries were set in 1877.

In the early 1850’s, as the settler population grew, ancillary businesses developed; stores, brickyards, boast builders, dry docks, hotels and services for summer visitors. Since there were only trails in this land, heavily forested to the water’s edge, the population was supported by the steamboats collectively called the Mosquito Fleet that used the Sound as a watery freeway to move mail, products and passengers.

In 1854, Daniel Bigelow – an attorney – and his wife Ann Elizabeth White Bigelow built their home in Olympia overlooking Budd Inlet (900 Glass Street, Olympia). Today it is a Museum, and it remains as one of the oldest frame buildings in the State of Washington. Visit the Bigelow House Museum website .

In the mid-1850’s, Olympia developed around the waterfront and quickly became a hub of maritime commerce. Federal officers and those seeking the opportunities of the capital flocked to the city which, at one time, boasted the largest population of any town on Puget Sound.

In the early 1850’s, as the settler population grew, ancillary businesses developed; stores, brickyards, boast builders, dry docks, hotels and services for summer visitors. Since there were only trails in this land, heavily forested to the water’s edge, the population was supported by the steamboats collectively called the Mosquito Fleet that used the Sound as a watery freeway to move mail, products and passengers.

In the mid-1850’s, Olympia developed around the waterfront and quickly became a hub of maritime commerce. Federal officers and those seeking the opportunities of the capital flocked to the city which, at one time, boasted the largest population of any town on Puget Sound.

More about Puget Sound
Early Olympia docks overlooking Puget Sound The name currently given to the whole of the inland sea of Western Washington, originally named by Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy in honor of Lieutenant Peter Puget. Captain Vancouver sent Lieutenant Puget and a crew to survey the lower part of the sound in May 1792. Puget and his crew spent several days visiting nearly every cove and island in the region. To honor this work, Vancouver named the part of the sound south of the Tacoma Narrows for Puget. Vancouver named the northern part of the sound Admiralty Inlet.


Soon after the first Americans settled Olympia in the mid-1840s, Chinese immigrants arrived in the city. Olympia’s first Chinatown was on 4th Avenue between Columbia and Main (Capitol Way) where several buildings housed a hand laundry, stores and lodging for residents.

More about Olympia's Chinatown
Locke Family

Early on, Olympia emerged as a “Locke Town.” Olympia’s Chinese residents were predominantly from the Lok family villages near the town of Seulbo in Toisan County of Guangdong Province in southern China. Most of these sojourners were male and they relied on family surname associations to provide lodging, meals and social life.

Olympia’s earliest China town was on 4th Avenue between Columbia and Main (Capitol Way) where several buildings housed a hand laundry, stores and lodging for residents.

Although there is no Chinatown in Olympia today, many descendants of the original Chinese pioneers still make their homes in the region. In 1996, Gary Locke, grandson of Suey Gum Locke, who came to Olympia in 1890 as a teenager and worked as a servant, was elected Governor of the State of Washington. He was the first Chinese American elected Governor in the United States. In 2007, Doug Mah was the first person of Chinese-American descent to be elected as Olympia’s Mayor.


Olympia’s first fire fighting unit, Barnes’ Hook and Ladder Brigade, was organized in the early 1850’s. Columbia Number 1, the first fire engine company to be established in Washington Territory, was formed in Olympia in 1865.

Olympia residents elected the town’s first Mayor in 1873 – William Winlock Miller. Before then, a Town President was selected annually from among the members of the Town Board.

In 1890, one year after statehood, Olympia City Marshal George Savidge was the first in City history to be officially referred to as Chief of Police. Prior to 1890, Olympia has a Town Marshall. In the years from 1889-1892, the Olympia Police Department was comprised of the chief, a captain and six patrolmen.

State of Washington Legislative Building under construction 1925

Capital of Washington State

When Washington Territory was formed in 1853, Olympia was named the provisional territorial capital by Isaac Stevens, Washington’s first territorial governor. In 1855, the designation was confirmed by the territorial legislature. Olympia’s incorporation as a Town occurred on January 28, 1859.

In 1856, the territorial legislature appointed a board of commissioners to oversee construction of a new bridge connecting downtown Olympia with the westside. Lack of funds held up the project until 1868 when Thurston County loaned the City of Olympia $1,500. The first westside bridge was built the following year.

An especially difficult blow fell when Olympia was bypassed by mainline railroads in the 1870s. City residents had to build their own line to connect with the Northern Pacific mainline at Tenino – 15 miles to the south.

Olympia’s title of capital was often contested during the early years, and Olympia townspeople fought challenges by Vancouver, Steilacoom, Seattle, Port Townsend and Tacoma for location of the seat of territorial and, later, state government.

In early 1889, Olympia resident and jeweler Charles Talcott was commissioned to create a State seal in time for the convening of the first State legislature in November of the same year. The simple round design with a copy of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington in the center and the words “The Seal of the State of Washington, 1889” is still the official seal of Washington State.

More about the State Seal
A short time before Washington became a state in 1889, a committee brought an elaborate design for a state seal to Olympia jeweller Charles Talcott and asked him to complete it in time for the meeting of the first Legislature in November of that year. The design submitted by the committee was very complicated sketch, depicting the port of Tacoma, vast wheat fields, grazing sheep and Mount Rainier. Talcott argued that the design was too complicated and would be quickly outmoded by the growth of the state. Something simple, he suggested, would be timeless. He picked up an ink bottle and drew a circle around its base. Next he placed a silver dollar in the circle and drew an inner circle. Between these circles he lettered the words, “The Seal of the State of Washington, 1889”. In the center he pasted a postage stamp bearing a picture of George Washington. The design was quickly accepted by the Legislature. But making the die from the picture of George Washington on a postage stamp was no easy task.. Under magnification the picture was poorly detailed and would have been unsatisfactory when enlarged. George Talcott was given the job of finding a suitable picture and cutting the die. After reviewing a number of pictures, he finally found what he was looking for — a color drawing of George Washington on a packing box of “Dr. D. Jaynes Cure for Coughs & Colds”! Grant Talcott did the lettering and George cut the die. Over the years, more than two dozen variations of the Talcott design were used. In 1967, Seattle graphic designer Richard Nelms was commissioned to create a new insignia. He selected a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, which was accepted and made the official State Seal by the Legislature. By law, the Secretary of State is the custodian of the Great Seal, which is attached to official documents and certificates issued by the state. The original die and press for the State Seal — now more than 100 years old — is still used by the Secretary of State to impress the seal on official state documents.


Washington was given statehood designation on November 11, 1889, as the forty-second (42nd) state to enter the Union.

More about Washington State
On November 11, 1889, Washington was admitted to statehood as the 42nd state of the Union by the United States Congress, with the same boundaries as at present. Washington extends from the Pacific Ocean on the west to Idaho on the east, and from Oregon on the south to the Canadian Province of British Columbia on the north. Prior to statehood, Washington was first part of Oregon Territory, and later became Washington Territory on March 2, 1853. The name Columbia was favored by residents of the Territory and was suggested in Congress by Senator Stephen A. Douglas. However, the name Washington was chosen instead to honor George Washington, the first president.


When Washington became a state in 1889 with Olympia as the capital, the city grew and prospered adding amenities such as an opera house, city water system, street car line, street lamps, and a new hotel to accommodate visiting legislators. State government has been housed in a series of buildings in Olympia, including the former county courthouse in downtown.

Aerial view of Olympia 1929

Twentieth Century Growth

Changes were made to the topography of the city in 1911-12, when almost 22 blocks were added to the downtown area in a gigantic dredging and filling effort to create a deep water harbor and fill the sloughs to the north and east of the city.

In 1919, the City awarded a contract to Union Bridge Company to build a more reliable bridge concrete bridge connecting downtown Olympia with the westside. The amount of the contract was $132,750.

With increased growth in state government and the economic stimulus of World War I, the city began to grow in population and development. Olympia became a center of lumber processing and the city boasted as new smokestacks went up on the waterfront. Downtown buildings were constructed and residential areas south and west of the city developed. By the time of the completion of the grand domed legislative building in 1927, the city had become a fitting setting for such an imposing structure.

An earthquake in 1949 damaged or destroyed many historic downtown buildings, which were quickly rebuilt. Today, downtown Olympia is a charming mix of historic, mid-century, and contemporary architecture.

State government grew rapidly in Olympia after World War II, but many state offices were moving to other parts of the State. A Washington State Supreme Court decision in 1954 mandated that Olympia was the seat of government and that state office headquarters must locate here.

The 1950’s ushered in construction of a new freeway through Olympia and her neighboring communities of Tumwater and Lacey. Interstate 5, which runs from the southern tip of California to the Washington State/Canadian border, is a vital transportation link for Olympia and the Puget Sound region.

In the 1960’s the time of smokestacks and plywood mills drew mostly to an end along Olympia’s waterfront when the Simpson, Georgia Pacific, and St. Regis mills closed, victims of changing markets.

Long time residents still mention the “Columbus Day” storm which hit the northwest on October 12, 1962, with seventy-eight mile per hour winds. Two people were killed in the Olympia area and extensive damage was caused to buildings and trees.

A new era began at the close of the 1960’s when The Evergreen State College was authorized by the state legislature on Cooper Point road at the site of historic Athens University, just west of the Olympia City limits. The institution has changed and enlivened the Capital City’s cultural and social climate.

Toward the end of the 20th century, Olympia experienced rapid growth as individuals and families continued to relocate to the Pacific Northwest. In 1994, the Olympia City Council adopted the City’s first Comprehensive Plan produced under the new Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA). The Forward of the 1994 Plan stated that it “reflects the realities faced by Washington’s fast growing counties and cities in attempting to find the balance between planning responsibly for our future population while preserving the qualities our residents so appreciate.”

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History of the Washington Center for the Performing Arts

[Captured from Wayback machine that archived deleted City of Olympia pages]

By Ed Echtle


WCPA 2014For nearly 90 years, the theater on South Washington Street in Olympia has served as a hub for entertainment, public meetings and social events. Originally built as the Liberty Theater in 1924, it reopened in 1985 after an extensive renovation as the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. Throughout its history, the theater’s programming reflected changing fashions in entertainments as well as the changing fortunes of Olympia’s downtown.

Although it begun as a for-profit venture, the theater’s evolution into an anchor for Olympia’s downtown and as a key cultural space for the larger community parallels the reemergence of Olympia’s historic town center as the South Sound’s principal social space. As the Washington Center for the Performing Arts continues its mission, understanding how the vision for its creation emerged from a combination of the community’s needs and the theater’s past uses is key to understanding its significance in Olympia’s community history.

Grand Theaters for Olympia

The Liberty TheaterBy the end of WWI, movies were a booming industry in the US. In the early 1920s, Olympia had two smaller movie houses, the Rex and the Ray. The Olympia Opera House, built in 1890 on East Fourth Ave. by newspaper pioneer John Miller Murphy, was becoming a relic of the past as its earlier grandeur faded with use and time.  As 1920s audiences nationwide increasingly expected movie-going to be an elegant experience, competing entrepreneurs planned two new larger, more refined theaters to provide Olympia’s moviegoers with more luxurious facilities.

By 1924, a race was on between construction crews to see which of the two new theaters would open first.  The Zabel Family, owners of the Rex and the Ray, were behind the Capitol Theater project on 5th Avenue, designed by prolific local architect Joseph Wohleb. Nearby, the Reed-Ingham Investment Co. developed the Liberty Theater as part of a larger project that included an adjoining indoor garage to help accommodate Olympia’s increasing numbers of automobiles. Situated across Washington Street from the Hotel Olympian and less than a block from what was then the State Capitol, the Liberty Theater and Garage was poised to take advantage of the influx of people and cars that arrived for legislative sessions.


Family Business

The site of the new Liberty Theater was formerly the location of the Thomas Milburne Reed family home. Reed arrived in 1857 as a Wells Fargo agent, just a few years after Olympia’s founding. By the 1860s he was elected to the Washington Territorial Legislature where he served as speaker of the house in 1862-63. He later served in a number of appointed positions in Washington and Idaho Territories and won election to the legislature again in 1878-79, serving as president of the Council (Senate). Reed was also an astute businessman and developed the Reed business block adjoining his home in 1891 which housed Olympia’s post office until 1914.

By the time Reed died in 1905 his son, Mark Reed, was manager of the Simpson Timber Co. in Shelton, Washington and was married to Irene Simpson, daughter of company founder Sol G Simpson. Mark Reed also later served in the Washington State legislature during the 1910s. As his business interests expanded, he formed the Reed-Ingham investment Co in partnership with Dr. George W Ingham of Olympia. Ingham was married to Emma Reed, Mark’s sister, and was an avid local investor with interests in the South Sound oyster industry and the Olympia Knitting Mills. Among their many projects, they decided to redevelop the site of the old Reed family home on South Washington Street, adjacent to the Reed Block and increasingly surrounded by Olympia’s expanding business district.


Accessible Elegance

The Reed-Ingham investment Co retained Mark Purvis of Seattle as architect for the new facility. Purvis was an accomplished theater designer with decades of experience including Murphy’s 1890 Opera House. Among Purvis’ other projects were the Columbia and the Mack Theaters in Longview and Port Angeles Washington. Reed-Ingham also hired the Seattle firm of Jensen and Von Herberg to build and operate the new facility. Jensen and Von Herberg were renowned in the field of theater building, having managed construction of Liberty theaters in Portland Oregon and Seattle, as well as the Neptune, also in Seattle.

By August 1924 it was apparent the Liberty Theater would open first, beating the Capitol by nearly two months. A two-page feature in the Morning Olympian newspaper lauded the new facility’s fine interior finish and included ads placed by many of the subcontractors and suppliers congratulating the Liberty’s management and touting their own involvement in the construction of the theater.

The well-appointed theater drew lavish praise in the local press. Primary colors of the Liberty’s interior design theme were blue and bronze. Upholstered seats, a new feature in Olympia’s movie houses, offered new levels of comfort to patrons. The Liberty also installed “thick velvet carpet [that] will yield to the tread like beds of moss.” Like its counterparts in larger cities, the Liberty also employed uniformed ushers to escort patrons to their seats.

The grand opening on Saturday August 30, 1924 featured “The Last Hour” a silent melodrama, as well as five vaudeville acts and “two concerts given by premier organist Esther Stayner, from Chicago and Spokane.” The affair brought out large crowds and the opening was standing room only.

The Liberty’s managers intended Stayner’s performance to showcase their impressive Wurlitzer organ. Jensen and Von Herberg made such organs integral parts of their theater designs. The theater’s organ was equipped with two keyboards and nine “ranks” or sets of pipes. Installed by Sandy Balcom of Seattle, a large loft above the stage housed the pipes. The organist also controlled a variety of percussion instruments through the keyboard, including a glockenspiel, snare and bass drums and chimes. The organ also produced sound effects including horse-hoof beats and bird twitters to enhance the silent movie experience. Among the early performers on the Liberty’s Wurlitzer was Oliver Wallace who played for the 1924 New Year’s Eve program. Wallace went on to score several Disney studio features including Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Together with collaborator Frank Churchill, Wallace won an Oscar in 1941 for his work on Dumbo.

Shortly after its opening, the Moore Amusement Co of Seattle assumed management of the Liberty Theater as part of a chain of Liberty Theaters in Oregon and Washington. Afterward, the Liberty settled into a routine cycle of programs, mainly movies and vaudeville acts. However, its cache as a well-appointed venue attracted other uses as well. After Roland Hartley was elected Governor, state building engineers raised concerns that the old capitol building on Legion Way and Washington Street was structurally incapable of supporting the crowds expected for the inauguration. Event planners quickly booked the nearby Liberty Theater, where Hartley took the oath of office in January 1925, beginning the theater’s decades-long career as a site for public events.

As the movie industry grew, the Fox Theater Chain acquired the Moore Amusement Co. and later merged with West Coast Theaters becoming Fox West Coast in 1929. That year, the Liberty featured On With The Show, the first ever feature-length color film with sound.


The Great Depression and Wartime

Theater ad replicaWhile feature films were the Liberty’s main offering, from early on, weekend matinees for children were a staple at the theater. Former Olympia Mayor Bill Jacobs recalled attending the Liberty as a child, to catch the weekly cartoon lineup billed as “Popeye Theater.” While vaudeville performances were becoming less fashionable, live performances in the theater continued in diverse forms.

One of the more unusual were the midnight “Spook Frolics” presented by performers such as “Francisco” who travelled the west coast in the 1930s and ‘40s. Francisco and similar acts did not claim to be spiritualists but managed to scare audiences with eerie sounds and visual effects, including floating tables, spirit writing, disembodied voices and invoking rapping noises throughout the theater.

Despite its role as a respite from daily life, the realities of the world intruded on moviegoers the afternoon of December 7, 1941. In later years reporter Gus Angelos recalled he and his sister, aged 10 and 11 at the time, were startled when their movie abruptly cut off and the house lights came on. Theater manager Harold Murphy took the stage and announced that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and that all military personnel were to report to their posts immediately. “We didn’t stay for the rest of the show. We ran all the way home, and home was on the eastside of town, several miles away.”

During the war theater attendees kept abreast of wartime events through newsreels preceding feature films. In addition, the USO broadcast live musical performances from the Liberty over the radio, to entertain troops stationed nearby at Fort Lewis.


A New Era

As Olympia entered the postwar years, Olympia’s theater owners prepared for increased numbers of moviegoers as servicemen and women returned to civilian life. Nearby, on Fourth Avenue, a third large downtown theater, The State, opened its doors in 1949. The State sported a modern neon marquee including a large backlit reader board. The Capitol Theater also added a similar lighted marquee trimmed in neon, to advertise its offerings and present a more modern façade.

The Liberty needed refreshing to compete as well. After Wes “Mac” McDonald leased the Liberty in 1948, he invested $75,000 in upgrading the theater. McDonald was an experienced manager and owned another small movie house in Olympia, the Avalon, built in 1928. At the Liberty, workers installed updated heating and ventilation systems while the house received new burgundy damask wall coverings, flower-patterned carpet and the first “self-raising” seats installed in Washington State. McDonald also retained artist Robert Berg who added murals to the stairwells depicting scenes of tragedy and comedy described by the press as “Indo-Chinese” in style. Among the areas most improved in the upgrade was the women’s lounge including walls newly upholstered in chartreuse leatherette. The theater also took on a new name, the Olympic, as well as a new backlit marquee with a large revolving “O” in the style of the Olympia Beer brand logo.

The Olympic also continued hosting special events, as when the Washington Federation of Labor held its 54th annual convention there in 1956. United Churches of Olympia held Sunday services at the Olympic after the 1949 earthquake severely damaged their nearby church, until they dedicated a new church in 1951. Producers of the 1961 film “Ring of Fire” booked both the Olympic and the Capitol Theaters to host concurrent premier showings. Shot in Oregon and Washington, the film’s climax featured the wreck of a steam locomotive in the collapse of a high trestle across the Wynoochee River. At the conclusion of the film the cast including David Janssen, Joyce Taylor and Frank Gorshin appeared on the Olympic’s stage to greet the audience.

Despite improvements to the Olympic, its future was increasingly uncertain. American society was in transition as the automobile became central to daily life and new suburban developments took families farther from downtown. In addition, the advent of television made staying home a more appealing option for family entertainment.

New drive-in theaters in the area offered another alternative to the downtown theaters: the Sunset opened in Tumwater in 1949 and Lacey Drive-In in 1953. Drive-ins not only offered convenience, they promoted themselves as a casual, more private alternative to traditional theater going, inviting young working families to “come as you are.” That same privacy especially appealed to young adults with access to cars, who quickly adopted drive-ins as the preferred destination for romantic dates.

Since the coming of sound film, the aging Wurlitzer organ in the Olympic fell into disuse and was in need of repair and maintenance. In 1962 the Olympic theater management contacted Andy Crow to assess the instrument’s needs. Crow, an accomplished organist in the region, regularly performed at the Music Box, Roxy and Temple Theatres in Tacoma, and the Orpheum and Paramount in Seattle. Crow began maintaining the organ with the help of Les Lehne. In 1971 Andy Crow and business partner Marshall Woodbridge purchased the Olympic for their own, to protect the historic structure and the venerable organ.


Downtown Struggles

Olympia theaterBy the 1950s diffusion of state agencies to other cities in Washington created operational difficulties and legislators determined to reconsolidate government in the Olympia area. Washington State acquired property across Capitol Way from the legislative building and began construction of new office space on the site. In the process, the state demolished William Winlock Miller High School (known locally as Olympia High School) including its large 1000+ seat auditorium. Since its construction in 1919, the Olympia High auditorium served as the main large-capacity venue for local arts organizations and its loss left the Olympia area with no similar sized space for local productions.

While the state capitol campus was growing, the opening of the Interstate 5 freeway bypass in 1958 began a period of economic decline for Olympia’s downtown. Exacerbating the loss of drive-through tourist revenue was the closing of industries and the departure of larger “anchor stores” to new suburban shopping centers. Meanwhile, movie going became less formal and patrons dressed more casually than they had in the past. In response, movie houses no longer vied with one another to maintain their former grandeur and often deferred expensive maintenance to cut costs.

By the 1970s, new movie house design was more utilitarian, foregoing decorative refinements typical of earlier theaters. Near Lacey, a six-screen multiplex opened in 1979, close to the freeway. In 1980 the recently completed Capitol Mall on Olympia’s west side added another four-screen multiplex. The combination of easy access, abundant parking and more modern sound and projection equipment further hastened the decline of Olympia’s aging downtown movie houses, including the Olympic. Coupled with the advent of home video movie rentals, the classic movie palaces struggled to stay viable.

Owners of the State theater, the newest of the downtown venues, attempted to keep it profitable by partitioning its large auditorium into three screens and showing second-run movies at reduced prices. The Olympic and Capitol Theaters increasingly relied on special events including live performances and classic movie revivals to generate income.


The Movement for a Performing Arts Center

Since the loss of the Olympia High School Auditorium, local arts organizations vied for venue space. While the downtown theaters were capable of accommodating large crowds, their need to generate revenue for their owners often made their use expensive for local arts organizations with tight budgets. However, as competition from suburban movie venues and decreasing attendance caused downtown theaters to struggle for business, they became more affordable and local groups began using them more frequently.

In 1966 local arts advocates including the Olympia Fine Arts Guild (founded in 1942), along with Washington First Lady Nancy Evans, launched the Governor’s Festival of the Arts in Olympia, to bring world class artists and performers to the Capitol City and the Olympic theater served as a principle venue. Performers slated for the six-month event included the Seattle Repertory Players, the Seattle Symphony, and an appearance by actress and singer Pearl Bailey. Afterward the Governor’s Festival of the Arts became an annual event for several years, regularly utilizing the Olympic.

By 1968 local arts supporters founded a new group, Patrons of South Sound Cultural Activities (POSSCA) to take on fundraising for community arts events. As the need for a multi-purpose arts venue grew, local arts advocates also founded The Capital Area Association for the Performing Arts (CAAPA) in 1973. The driving force behind CAAPA was Vern Eke, a 1952 graduate of Olympia High School. Eke went on to earn a doctorate in performing arts at UCLA where he became an instructor. A talented musician, performer and production manager, he returned to the Olympia area in the early 1970s where he managed local productions in smaller venues including the Saint Martin College’s Abbey Theater and the Jade Room in the old Hotel Olympian.

Efforts for a new dedicated performing arts center gradually gained momentum. In response, the City of Olympia agreed to dedicate several acres of surplus land on the Westside for the project in 1976; formerly the city’s solid waste landfill. The site, located near the Black Lake Boulevard entrance to Highway 101, followed the commercial trend of outmigration from downtown. Despite the free land, many supporters found this site remote and preferred a downtown location, presaging the movement for revitalization of Olympia’s downtown.

Meanwhile, CAAPA adopted the name, “Washington Center for the Performing Arts” (WCPA) for the project to underscore their vision of the new facility as a regional venue and garner support from beyond Olympia. While CAAPA’s initial attempt to procure state support in 1977 fell short, in 1979 an endorsement from former Washington first family Dan and Nancy Evans helped persuade the legislature to approve a $1.5 million matching grant for the WCPA project.

That same year, the local architects serving as part of the Regional and Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) weighed in on the project. Founded in 1967 by the American Institute of Architects to offer growth management guidance to cities across America, R/UDAT authored its first assessment of Olympia’s increasingly vacant downtown core in 1979. In addition to their advocacy for a farmers market, new community center and the redevelopment of Percival Landing as a public space, R/UDAT urged the city to support the WCPA project as an anchor attraction for downtown.

Increasing numbers of stakeholders led the City of Olympia to create the Cultural Arts Advisory Committee (CAAC) in 1980 to steer the project. The city also hired Lynn Schrader as coordinator of CAAC which included representatives from POSSCA, CAAPA, R/UDAT and other local arts organizations. CAAC members embraced R/UDATs recommendation for a downtown site and abandoned plans for the Black Lake Boulevard location.

After an unsuccessful attempt by the city to acquire property on State Avenue, the committee turned its efforts toward repurposing an existing theater. The Olympic theater and garage, since purchased from Crow and Woodbridge by the Moyer Theater chain of Portland, seemed to offer the best combination of location and space. However, not everyone was convinced the aging Olympic could meet their needs, including former board member Lynn Brunton who later recalled, “I can remember the first time I walked through this theater and the garage, I thought, no way, this is not going to work!” In 1981 the committee hired architect Richard McCann to study the feasibility of repurposing the site. McCann, whose other projects included refits of the Orpheum in San Francisco, Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theater and the Pantages in Tacoma, endorsed the Olympic refit as the best course of action.

CAAC members also determined that operations at the new performing arts center should follow the model used by other cities and turn management over to an independent non-profit. The city made the new organization official in September of 1982, registering “Washington Center for the Performing Arts” with the Secretary of State and appointed a 9 member board.

From the outset the board was made up of people from diverse career backgrounds. Local attorney Judy Henderson served on the original board and later recalled there was a steep learning curve for the newly appointed members: “We did not know performing arts, so we went on a road trip. We went to Eugene Oregon, we went to Seattle, we went to Yakima, we studied performing arts centers and learned the business of keeping it in the black instead of the red!

By 1982 events were winding down in the Olympic. One of the last performers to take the stage was American folk singer and social justice activist Odetta, serving as an artist in residence at The Evergreen State College in 1981-82. By August the city appropriated funds to purchase the Olympic theater from the Moyers chain and passed an ordinance to sell $1.5 million in bonds to match the state’s grant. On October 12 the Olympic’s final feature showing, Das Boot, played to a small audience, most attending in honor of the theater’s closing after nearly 60 years of service.

Immediately after the movie, WCPA supporters gathered in the theater and toasted the milestone with champagne in paper cups. Organist Andy Crow entertained on the venerable Wurlitzer with a selection of standards including “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Sentimental Journey” and “Tumblin’ Tumbleweed.” In the following weeks Crow also oversaw the removal of the organ’s components to storage, to await reinstallation in the new theater.



While demolition of the original theater interior got underway, the WCPA board began fundraising in earnest. In addition, the CAAC and the WCPA board held numerous meetings with local arts groups to determine their needs and develop an operations plan that would facilitate their use of the new theater. Meanwhile the design was taking shape. McCann enlisted acoustic experts Professor Yoichi Ando of Japan and his protégé Dennis Noson of Seattle to consult on the interior design to maximize its acoustic capabilities. WCPA was Ando’s first project in the US. He and Noson proposed an innovative trapezoidal space with hard surfaces to reflect and enhance sound from the stage. 

The facility planners were also concerned with accommodating diverse uses. McCann designed the main stage to be expandable by enabling the orchestra pit to rise to stage level. The design also included a second, smaller rehearsal/conference space connected to the main stage via a shared storage area to facilitate transfer of sets and other materials between stages. This smaller space later evolved into a public performing space, known as the “Black Box Theater.”

As excitement over the project increased among arts supporters, local advocates for historic preservation in Olympia raised concerns over the extent of alterations to the original Liberty theater facade. However, the recently formed Olympia Heritage Commission’s apprehensions were trumped by the fact that the city and architects already made most of the key design decisions and any new changes would result in delays and increased cost. In the final design, the retention of one exterior wall and several architectural elements were intended to allude to the original theater and garage, most recognizably the Liberty’s ornate oval vent ports, which became the symbol for the WCPA. In addition, plans called for the reinstallation of a WWI-era street clock donated by the Kluh Family outside WCPA’s entrance. Previously the historic clock stood for decades outside Kluh jewelers in downtown Olympia.

At the conclusion of the demolition phase, city leaders and WCPA supporters gathered in the gutted building in June 1984 for the formal groundbreaking ceremony. By then the WCPA board’s fundraising efforts passed $1.2 million, well on the way to meeting goals. The city also determined that proceeds from the sale of the surplus land in west Olympia originally proposed as the site of the WCPA be used to create an endowment fund for the new organization.

As construction continued into 1985, Robert Stewart replaced Lynn Schrader as director when Schrader departed to manage Pacific Northwest Ballet. Efforts to complete the facility ahead of its opening date accelerated as workers continued installing new fixtures up through opening day. Longtime volunteer Nancy Walsh later recalled she became involved with WCPA after she saw how much work there was yet to be done just days from opening: “I was horrified when I went inside! There was no carpet, the seats were in the lobby, and I thought, ‘I wonder if they need some help.’ So I went home and I called the number and they said, ‘sure, come on down!’”

Premiere week programs at WCPA commenced on September 28 and lasted through October 7, 1985. Programs included a diverse lineup of performers and offerings including the Olympia Symphony and Masterworks Choral Ensemble, A Salute to Olympia Schools featuring local youth musicians and performers, Olympia Chorale, Ballet Northwest, the Seattle Symphony, and the Modern Jazz Society. National acts included comedian David Brenner and the US Marine Band. Headlining the week was a premier gala and solo appearance by entertainer Ben Vereen on October 1st.


Down to Business

WCPA prior to exterior renovationAfter the festivities of premier week, WCPA settled into the day-to-day business of providing the local performing arts venue its supporters envisioned. While nationally famous performers remained a regular part of programming, more local organizations, including Olympia Junior Programs (OJP,) began utilizing WCPA as well. Founded in 1940, OJP introduces South Sound youth to live theater through daytime matinees in partnership with school districts and was among the number of arts organizations displaced by the loss of the Olympia High School auditorium. Harlequin Productions, founded in 1990 by Linda and Scot Whitney, called the Black Box Theater home until they acquired the nearby State theater as their permanent home in 1997.

While theater and music entertainment dominated WCPA’s programming schedule, it also hosted lectures and public meetings such as the April 1990 appearance of renowned primatologist Jane Goodall who updated the audience on her work since she achieved wide recognition through televised National Geographic documentaries. WCPA also served as a venue for major public policy forums as well. In 1989 the US Department of Fish and Wildlife scheduled a public meeting to stem the controversy over the listing of the spotted owl as an endangered species. Environmentalists and supporters of unrestricted old growth logging squared off in the WCPA to discuss the issue.

In the following years locals nostalgic for the original theater turned out to ensure historical continuity between the WCPA and its predecessor theater. In 1995 WCPA finally gathered enough funds for Andy Crow and friend Les Lehne to reinstall the theater’s historic Wurlitzer, updated with a three-keyboard console connected to 23 ranks of pipes, including many components from the 1924 original. With the organ installed, WCPA paid homage to its past by offering silent movie revivals in the late 1990s. Appreciative audiences got a taste of the silent-film era through showings of Charlie Chaplin movies including “Easy Street,” “The Tramp” and “Those Love Pangs” as well as a presentation  of DW Griffith’s “Way Down East,” and Douglas Fairbanks in “The Mark of Zorro,” accompanied by Crow on the theater’s renovated Wurlitzer.

In 2011 Staff, volunteers and supporters celebrated 25 Years of successful performances at the WCPA with a program lineup that included the return of the theater’s inaugural headliner, Ben Vereen. Longtime associates of WCPA also took the opportunity to share their favorite moments in the theater since its opening. Board member Bob Haase recounted Tony Bennett’s performance in 2002 when Bennett asked for the amplification to be switched off so he could demonstrate the exceptional acoustics of the space. Former WCPA director Tom Iovanne recalled Gregory Hines’ appearance shortly before Hines’ death in 2003. Hines’ illness was unknown to the audience at the time but he delivered a memorable performance which included inviting audience members who brought their tap shoes to join him on stage for a number.


New Again

Performers at the WCPA dedication 2014In recent years the WCPA facility itself showed increasingly troublesome signs of age. By 2008 its artificial stucco exterior reached the end of its service life and required replacement. Since that time the City of Olympia undertook an extensive renovation of the facility including a new brick and stone exterior. The renovation began in April 2013 with workers replacing the roof, exterior, and the original mechanical systems.

As the WCPA performing arts enters its next phase, it continues to provide the region with a world-class venue for local and nationally-known performers as well as space for community events, lectures and discussions. As of 2013, the number of community arts groups that share use of WCPA has grown to twenty-seven. A new director, Jill Barnes, took on guiding WCPA in spring, bringing her desire to facilitate even more public participation through increased interaction between visiting artists and the community.

Since the opening of the Liberty in 1924, it has been a place where Olympia residents and their friends and neighbors from around the region immersed themselves in an extraordinary diversity of arts and entertainment experiences. The community spirit that led to the creation of the WCPA still inspires the current staff, volunteers and supporters to continue that legacy through ongoing cultivation of programs that transcend the stage, firmly rooted in the community partnerships that made WCPA possible. It’s renewal helps insure it will continue serving as an important cultural anchor for Olympia’s downtown and the surrounding community for generations to come.


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History of Olympia Fire Department

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The Beginning

Historic Olympia Fire Department

Olympia’s first fire fighting unit, Barnes’ Hook and Ladder Brigade, was organized in the early 1850’s. Columbia Number 1, the first fire engine company to be established in Washington Territory, was formed in Olympia in 1865. Olympia’s first salaried fireman was hired in November 1889. By 1930, the Fire Department employed nine fire fighters and an electrician.

Growing in Numbers

In 1959, the Olympia Fire Department initiated a three-platoon system to meet the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and added seven firefighters, for a total of 27. In 1968, 12 more firefighters were hired to staff the Eastside and Westside substations, which opened due to population growth and annexations, bringing the total number of firefighters to 39. In 1975, the Westside Station was closed to reassign personnel to a newly created Fire Prevention Bureau, boost staffing at the Eastside Station, and establish a Fire Mechanic’s position. The Department established the Fire Prevention Bureau to fulfill its legal obligations under the Uniform Fire Code as part of the Washington State Building Code and Standards Act. In 1978 the Westside Station was re-opened with existing staffing.

In 1987, six firefighters were hired to staff an aid unit at the Westside Station, which increased total staffing to 46. To reduce the firefighter workweek to 53 hours and comply with a change in the fair Labor Standards Act, three firefighters were hired in 1988.

Medic One

Early Medic One vehicleThe Thurston County Medic 1 System was initiated in 1974. Through an Intergovernmental agreement, the Olympia Fire Department hired six paramedic firefighters. In 1976 an additional paramedic was hired to improve the supervision of the paramedics. In 1988 an eighth paramedic was hired to comply with the reduction in work hours required by the Fair Labor Standard Act. In 1993 a ninth paramedic was hired to balance the three shifts and eliminate the need for paramedics to float. The Westside SPRINT unit was opened in 2000, and four paramedics were hired due to lengthening response times in the Northwest portion of the county. Following the earthquake, February 28, 2001, the SPRINT unit was temporarily converted to a full medic unit due to the closure of the 4th Avenue bridge. In January 2002 Medic 10 was changed from a temporary status to a permanent status and 3 additional paramedics were hired. At this time Olympia Fire Department currently employs 18 field paramedics, three of which are Paramedic Lieutenants.

OFD Today

Today, the City of Olympia Fire Department (OFD) is an all-career department with 100 members total. The department deploys four engines, one ladder truck, two medic units and a battalion unit. The engines and truck are staffed with three firefighters and an officer, while the medic units are staffed with two firefighter/paramedics. At minimum staffing, there is a full complement of 20 members on duty. OFD covers approximately 25 square miles and in 2019, responded to 13,810 calls for service.

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Chronology of Elected Officials

[Captured from Wayback machine that archived deleted City of Olympia pages. Links in green typeface were in original document; links with blue typeface are provided by OHS/BH to other pages on this website (some individuals will have links to more than one page). Links in bold face indicate that an image of the official is found elsewhere on this site. Corrections to the original are shown in brackets]

Historic Headshot collage: Evans, Elwood, Steele

Olympia’s Leadership

Olympia was named the capital city of Washington Territory on November 28, 1853. Incorporation as a Town occurred on January 28, 1859 by act of the territorial legislature. In 1882, the Town of Olympia incorporated as the City of Olympia.

Olympia has changed its form of government several times. What began as a Board of Trustees became a single Mayoral election, followed by a three person Commission and finally the Council-Manager system we use today.

Historical Documents from City of Olympia Archive


Board of Trustees | 1859-1871

The Act of Incorporation provided that an election of officers should take place on the first Monday of April each year. Article 8, Section 1, also designated an interim Board of Trustees to serve until the first election.

Members of the interim Board of Trustees for the Town of Olympia appointed by Act of the Territorial Legislature were George A. Barnes, Joseph Cushman, Elwood Evans, T. F. (Thornton Fleming) McElroy, and James Tilton. At the first meeting of the interim Board on February 12, 1859, Cushman was appointed by his fellow trustees to serve as Chairman, and on February 24, 1859, he was elected by his fellow trustees to serve as President of the Board of Trustees until the election in April.

The first election of Town of Olympia Board of Trustees was held April 4, 1859. At the organizational meeting of the first elected Board on April 14, 1859, Elwood Evans was selected by his fellow trustees to serve as Town President for the year. George A. Barnes was selected to serve as Treasurer.

List of Town Board Presidents, 1859-1871:

Mayoral | 1872-1924

According to the City Official Directory for the Year 1904 compiled by then Clerk V. A. Milroy, the Office of Mayor was created November 11, 1873 which replaced the President of the Board position.

However, in official Town Minutes maintained by the City of Olympia Clerk’s Office, W. W. (William Winlock) Miller is shown by the Clerk as being elected “in a municipal election” to the position of “Mayor” on April 1, 1872, and again on April 7, 1873. Town Minutes for officer elections prior to 1872 refer to the position as Town Board “President,” and the appointment to that position was from within and by the Trustees.

List of Mayors, 1872-1924:


Commissioners | 1925-1982

On November 16, 1925 the City government was changed to a three-member elected commission composed of the Mayor (Commissioner of Public Safety), Commissioner of Finance, and Commissioner of Public Works.

The Commission originally began serving three 3-year terms. In 1950 their terms were increased to four years.

List of City Commissioners, 1925-1982









  • Ernest Mallory | Mayor, Public Safety
  • Dan L. McCaughan | Commissioner of Finance
  • W.A. Kellogg | Commissioner of Public Works


  • Ralph A. Swanson | Mayor, Public Safety
  • Dan L. McCaughan | Commissioner of Finance
  • *J. Ross Roberson | Commissioner of Public Works
  • J.F. (Jack) Hamilton | Commissioner of Public Works


  • Amanda Benek Smith | Mayor, Public Safety
  • Claude Yount | Commissioner of Finance
  • J.F. Jack Hamilton (Died 10/13/54) | Commissioner of Public Works
  • Thomas Allen | Commissioner of Public Works


  • Amanda Benek Smith | Mayor, Public Safety
  • *Frank McClanna | Commissioner of Finance
  • Dr. Matthew Kast | Commissioner of Finance
  • *Peter F. Skoog | Commissioner of Public Works
  • *Herbert Legg | Commissioner of Public Works
  • Clarence Shain | Commissioner of Public Works


  • Neil R, McKay | Mayor, Public Safety
  • Thomas Allen | Commissioner of Finance
  • Ed Krenik | Commissioner of Public Works


  • Neil R. McKay | Mayor, Public Safety
  • Thomas Allen | Commissioner of Finance
  • Gil Olson | Commissioner of Public Works


  • Thomas Allen | Mayor, Public Safety
  • George Earsley | Commissioner of Finance
  • *Gil Olson | Commissioner of Public Works
  • Keith Kisor | Commisioner of Public Works


  • Thomas Allen | Mayor, Public Safety
  • George Earsley | Commissioner of Finance
  • Keith Kisor | Commissioner of Public Works


  • Lyle Watson | Mayor, Public Safety
  • Ron Rants | Commissioner of Finance
  • Wm. Jacobs | Commissioner of Public Works


  • Lyle Watson | Mayor, Public Safety
  • David Skramstad | Commissioner of Finance
  • Wm. Daley | Commissioner of Public Works

Council/City Manager | 1982-Present

On May 18, 1982, the voters of Olympia approved the Council-Manager form of government. A new 7-member City Council was elected on November 2, 1982 and assumed office on November 18, 1982. The first meeting of the newly elected City Council was November 23, 1982. The Mayor was selected by the Councilmembers for a two-year term in January of each even numbered year.

In 1991 the voters approved the selection of the Mayor through election by the citizens, rather than through appointment by the Council. The Mayor is elected to serve a 4-year term.

List of Mayor & Councilmembers, 1982-Present [page removed from City website in 2021]


  • David Skramstad | Mayor
  • Pete Knittle | Mayor Pro Tem
  • Mary Lux
  • Gilbert Carbone
  • William Daley
  • Holly Gadbaw
  • Joan Kelly


  • William Daley | Mayor
  • Gilbert Carbone | Mayor Pro Tem
  • Pete Knittle
  • Mary Lux
  • Holly Gadbaw
  • Joan Kelly
  • Rex Derr


  • Holly Gadbaw | Mayor
  • Rex Derr | Mayor Pro Tem
  • Gilbert Carbone
  • Pete Knittle
  • Mary Lux
  • William Daley
  • Cora Pinson


  • Rex Derr | Mayor
  • Mary Lux | Mayor Pro tem
  • Gilbert Carbone
  • Holly Gadbaw
  • Sandra Romero
  • Nina Carter
  • Cora Pinson


  • David Skramstad | Mayor (Resigned 3/2/93)
  • Bob Jacobs | Mayor (Appointed to replace Romero, Selected to become Mayor post resignation)
  • Mary Lux | Mayor Pro Tem
  • Rex Derr
  • Holly Gadbaw
  • Nina Carter
  • Mark Foutch
  • *Sandra Romero (Resigned 1/5/93)
  • Margaret McPhee (Appointed to replace Skramstad)


  • Bob Jacobs | Mayor
  • Mark Foutch | Mayor Pro tem
  • Pat Cole
  • Mary Lux
  • Holly Gadbaw
  • Margaret McPhee
  • Jeanette Hawkins


  • Bob Jacobs | Mayor
  • Mark Foutch | Mayor Pro Tem
  • Pat Cole
  • Laura Ware
  • Holly Gadbaw
  • Margaret McPhee
  • Jeanette Hawkins


  • Bob Jacobs | Mayor
  • Mark Foutch | Mayor Pro tem
  • Stan Biles
  • Laura Ware
  • Holly Gadbaw
  • Margaret McPhee
  • Jeanette Hawkins


  • Stan Biles |Mayor
  • Mark Foutch | Mayor Pro tem
  • Laura Ware
  • Curt Pavola
  • Holly Gadbaw
  • Margaret McPhee
  • TJ Johnson (Appointed 8/15/00 to replace McPhee)
  • Jeanette Hawkins


  • Stan Biles | Mayor
  • Mark Foutch | Mayor Pro Tem
  • Laura Ware
  • Curt Pavola
  • Matthew Green
  • Doug Mah
  • Jeanette Hawkins


  • Mark Foutch | Mayor
  • Laura Ware | Mayor Pro Tem
  • Matthew Green
  • Jeanette Hawkins
  • Joe Hyer
  • TJ Johnson
  • Doug Mah
  • Curt Pavola


  • Mark Foutch | Mayor
  • Laura Ware | Mayor Pro tem
  • Joe Hyer
  • TJ Johnson
  • Jeff Kingsbury
  • Doug Mah
  • Karen Messmer


  • Doug Mah | Mayor
  • Joe Hyer
  • Jeff Kingsbury
  • Joan Machlis (Appointed 1/7/08 to open position when Mah became Mayor)
  • Karen Messmer
  • Craig Ottavelli
  • Jeannine Roe (Elected to open position 11/24/09, replaced Machlis)
  • Rhenda Strub


  • Doug Mah | Mayor
  • Craig Ottavelli
  • Rhenda Strub
  • Karen Rogers
  • Stephen H. Buxbaum
  • Jeannine Roe
  • Joe Hyer (Resigned 4/10/10)
  • Steve Langer (Appointed 5/25/10 to replace Hyer)
  • Jim Cooper (Elected November 2011 to complete term)


  • Stephen Buxbaum | Mayor
  • Jim Cooper
  • Julie Hankins (Appointed 1/10/12 to open position when Buxbaum became Mayor)
  • Nathaniel Jones | Mayor Pro Tem
  • Steve Langer
  • Jeannine Roe
  • Karen Rogers


  • Stephen Buxbaum | Mayor
  • Jim Cooper
  • Julie Hankins
  • Nathaniel Jones | Mayor Pro Tem
  • Steve Langer
  • Jeannine Roe
  • Cheryl Selby 


  • Cheryl Selby | Mayor
  • Jim Cooper
  • Julie Hankins
  • Nathaniel Jones | Mayor Pro Tem
  • Jessica Bateman
  • Jeannine Roe
  • Clark Gilman (Appointed 1/4/16 to open position when Selby became Mayor)


  • Cheryl Selby | Mayor
  • Jessica Bateman | Mayor Pro Tem (2019)
  • Jim Cooper
  • Clark Gilman
  • Nathaniel Jones | Mayor Pro Tem (2018)
  • Lisa Parshley (Elected to open position, replaced Julie Hankins)
  • Renata Rollins (Elected to open position, replaced Jeanine Roe)
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Mosquito Fleet

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What is the Mosquito Fleet?

The Mosquito Fleet was the myriad of steamboats that served the Puget Sound’s  shipping and transit needs for the more than 50 years that straddled the dawn of the 20th century. The name, so the story goes, came from a fellow in an office overlooking Elliot Bay and remarking as he observed all the boat activity that it looked like a “swarm of mosquitoes.”

In the early 1850’s, as the settler population grew, ancillary businesses developed; stores, brickyards, boat builders, dry docks, hotels and services for summer visitors. Since there were only trails in this land, heavily forested to the water’s edge, the population was supported by the steamboats collectively called the Mosquito Fleet that used the Sound as a watery freeway to move mail, products and passengers.

Steamship dining roomThe fleet was the lifeblood of the community and commerce that launched the Pacific Northwest. Steamer schedules governed daily lives, and the whistle of an approaching boat was the call to collect the mail, greet friends, or send a package. To ride on a steamboat was an occasion, a chance to visit and enjoy the leisurely, often long passage to the city. Old-timers recall the smooth, gleaming wood on the passenger cabins, the box lunches en route, and the fact that, for a child, the journey enlarged the world.

Mosquito Fleet boats preparing to deploy

About the Boats

In short, a Mosquito Fleet boat was a craft of any size that performed any required task on Puget Sound.

Mosquito Fleet boats came in all sizes


The smallest was less than 40 feet long and the largest nearly 300 feet. As passenger and freight businesses grew, the boats became larger, and there came a distinction in nomenclature. Generally boats over 50 feet were called steamboats; those under that were called launches.


When they first arrived (the Beaver was the earliest to the Northwest in 1836), these boats ran all over Puget Sound and even into Canada. They simply went where they were needed. By 1880, they began to settle into regular routes, though boats changed hands and moved to different parts of Puget Sound quite often.

Steamer Fleetwood schedule


In the beginning, they were steam powered, first by wood, later by coal, and still later by oil. There were experiments: non-steam engines boiled naptha (an idea soon abandoned) and then, more safely, were fueled with gasoline. Boilers sometimes exploded, or heat caused fires with disastrous results. 


They fleet delivered passengers, mail, newspapers, produce, fish, eggs, bricks, shingles, brush, logs and more. Basically if there was water access and it could be loaded or towed, a Mosquito Fleet boat took care of it.

So many boats did so many different duties that it was not always possible to define a boat as a tugboat, freight boat, or passenger boat.


Historic steamer on Puget Sound

The End of an Era

Mosquito Fleet crewThe Mosquito Fleet era ended as customers switched their allegiance to cars and paved highways. The traditional design of the steamers were outmoded, too, as newer boats came down the ways with gasoline or diesel motors instead of steam, propellers instead of paddle wheels, and steel instead of wooden hulls. To survive, the fleet tried to adapt, the larger boats finding new life as ferries, the smaller ones as tugboats, freighters, or excursion boats. Ultimately, they did not endure. By the 1920’s, car ferries were taking over, and passenger-only patronage was declining. By the 1930s, they were gone.

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E.N. Steele

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E.N. Steele


E.N. Steele

E. N. (Earl) Steele was born April 19, 1881 in Altoona, Iowa, the son of John and Margaret (Newell) Steele. He married Clara Remdt of Findley, Ohio, on December 25, 1917. They had three children: Margaret Steele Everst, Richard N. Steele, and Bonnie J. Steele Lindsay.

Mr. Steele was public school teacher in Tenino, Washington in 1903-04. A lawyer, he was a member of the Washington State Bar Association engaged in private law practice in Olympia from 1904-45. He was owner and manager of the Oyster Company in Olympia, 1922-50, the Rockpoint Oyster Company at Samish Bay, Washington (1922-50), and past president of the Pacific Coast Oyster Growers Association. He authored two notable books about oysters, The Rise and Decline of the Olympia Oyster and The Immigrant (Pacific) Oyster.

In 1925, when the City of Olympia changed from a Mayor/Council form of government to the Commissioner form, Steele was elected Commissioner of Finance, a position he held until he was elected Mayor and Commissioner of Public Safety in 1932.

Steele was also elected to the Washington State Legislature as a State Senator representing the Thurston County area. Earl N. Steele died in 1968.  

More information:

The Following is the Forward to Steele’s The Immigrant Oyster. It was written by Charles R. Pollack of Seattle in 1962.

It is only occasionally that a man who starts the development of a new idea or industry, stays with it through the formative stages, meeting problems as they arise; and the fruition of his dreams in a successful industry developed; employing several hundred people; providing profits for not only those who worked with him through the trying periods of small successes, but to others later engaged in the industry; hampered by temporary obstacles and failures, to the achieved goal, such a man is the author of this book.

It has been this writer’s privilege to know the author of this book since his Pacific oyster operations started in 1924, when his company imported the first large cargo of Japanese oyster spat (seed) from the Miyagi Prefecture area of Japan. Previous small shipments of trial spat had been imported for a few preceding years prior to Messrs. Steele and Barnes taking over the program under the name of the Rock Point Oyster Company at Blanchard, Washington.

Earl Newell Steele was born in Altoona near Des Moines, Iowa, April 19, 1881; lived at Perry, Iowa, where he graduated from high school and entered the University of Iowa in 1900; graduated in law the Spring of 1903. It is a recorded fact that Steele traveled from Perry, Iowa, to Iowa City by bicycle, and mainly through his own efforts financed his schooling and graduated in law from Iowa State University in 1903.

Coming to Washington in August, 1903, Steele taught school at Tenino near Olympia for eight months, and then having passed the State Bar examination, he opened his law office at Olympia in 1904, where he practiced his profession for over forty years.

Public spirited and interested in the development of his community, he served as a Director of the Olympia Chamber of Commerce three years and its President two years; elected Olympia City Commissioner of Finance he served seven years, and was appointed Mayor to replace the Mayor who passed away; he served two years in this position; elected State Senator from Thurston County in 1932, he served four years in the Washington State Senate with very considerable distinction.

In 1907 and continuing to this date, being so close to the Oyster operations around Olympia, Steele took a great interest in the practical growing of oysters and with it the scientific development and improvement of the industry. With his summer home on Oyster Bay, the large production area for the Native Olympia Oysters, his interest which might have been called a hobby, developed with the purchase of oyster acreage into a regular profitable business side line.

Jn 1912 he was elected Secretary of the Olympia Oyster Growers Association and held that office until 1941, over 35 years. Principally through his tireless efforts the advertising of the Olympia Oyster Growers Association developed the Pacific Coast demand for these succulent bivalves to the point where the entire available production was sold each year.

On December 25, 1917, Mr. Steele married Clara Ann Remdt in Findlay, Ohio, and their three children, now grown, with families of their own, are Margaret Ann, Richard N., and Bonny Jean. Richard N. and Margaret’s husband, Marshall Hinton, now operate the Rock Point Oyster Company’s plant.

In 1930, it was through his efforts the Pacific Coast Oyster Growers Association was formed. He was president and secretary until 1945, and a Trustee for several years afterwards, as well as a valued consultant to date.

Beginning with the scientific study of the propagation of the Native Olympia Oyster and since early in 1920 pioneering the importation of Japanese transplanted oysters, now known to the trade as the Pacific Oyster, and engaging in the culture of this species for these many years, it goes without Saying that Earl Newell Steele, known to all of us as the Daddy of the Pacific Oyster Industry, after fifty five years, should have a whole book full of interest, information, and observations on oysters for the permanent record.

In 1957, the Olympia Oyster Growers Association published Steele’s book “The Rise and Decline of the Olympia Oyster”. A story of men’s lives, the life of the oyster which they cultivated, and the Olympia Oyster industry.

Personal and most agreeable contacts over the years since 1924 makes me welcome this opportunity to salute “E. N.” and I feel deeply honored to be asked to provide this foreword.

Seattle, May 1, 1962

The following article about E. N. Steele is reprinted from The Olympian newspaper’s Mainly About People series published in 1964.

A new chapter has been added to the long and varied career of E. N. Steele, pioneer lawyer, legislator and businessman from Thurston County.

Eighty-three year old Steele is the author of a book about Pacific Oysters – the oysters that grow from the Japanese seed he was first to import, cultivate and put on the market.

Titled The Immigrant Oyster (Ostrea Gigas), the book is published in cooperation with the Pacific Coast Oyster Growers Association Incorporated, and is being distributed now.

The Immigrant Oyster tells the story of the first planting of the Japanese seed in Bellingham’s Samish Bay 42 years ago, problems with importing the seed to the West Coast, troubles with pollution and the growth of the experiment into a profitable industry.

Steele, who also wrote The Rise and Decline of the Olympia Oyster which was published in 1957, now lives in Des Moines, but spends his summers at Rock Point Oyster Company property on Oyster Bay, where his home is located.

Just beyond the rolltop desk in the study of his home is a window that opens on to a long line of dikes protecting the company’s oyster bed.

Steele remembers when there were no dikes, and oyster growing was mostly an Indian occupation.

That was in 1903, the year the young lawyer named Steele was fresh out of the University of Minnesota and ready to make his mark in Olympia.

Steele and oysters is much a story of friendship. He tasted them, liked them, and by 1904 he was growing them on the same Toten Inlet Tidelands his home overlooks.

Young Steele was to have a colorful career in the Olympia area. In 1925 he became the first City of Olympia commissioner of finance when the city switched from the mayor-council form of government to the commission form.

He served until 1931 in this capacity, and from 1932 to 1934 he was Olympia’s mayor and commissioner of public safety.

But he will likely to be remembered primarily in government circles as the senator from Thurston County who in 1933 wrote the Steele Act. The law provided for the state’s control of liquor sales after the end of prohibition and established the State Liquor Control Board.

But oysters are his first love, and from 1933 to 1945 Steele served as the first president of the Pacific Coast Oyster Gorwers Association, comprised of the leading men in the industry.

A long-time friend, Jay Bolster, of Olympia, says Steele is probably the most widely known oyster grower in the United States.

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Caleb Reinhart

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Caleb S Reinhart


Caleb Reinhart
Caleb Reinhart was the son of Stephen and Sarah Reinhart, pioneers who crossed the plains in 1852 over the old Oregon Trail. He was born April 5, 1856 in Olympia, approximately ten years after the first western settlers had arrived. Mr. Reinhart died December 10, 1934 at his home in Olympia located at 1112 Olympia Avenue. He is buried in the Reinhart family plot at the Masonic Cemetary in Tumwater, WA.

Caleb Reinhart married Clara Downer, the daughter of Oregon pioneer Joseph Downer who had arrived there in 1847. Caleb and Clara Reinhart had six children, including Anna R. Stanford, a 1900 graduate of Olympia High School, long time art teacher at that school, and the paternal grandmother of Jim Stanford and Jeri Ramsey who provided this biographical information. As of 2009, five generations of Caleb and Clara’s descendents had graduated from Olympia High School.

Mr. Reinhart was a graduate of Williamette University and an attorney who worked as the chief clerk of the Washington State Supreme Court from 1891 until his death in 1934. He was Mayor of Olympia in 1899, 1900, and 1901.

He was a member of the Washington National Guard from its beginning, joining as a noncommissioned officer in Company B, then shortly thereafter promoted to lieutenant and later captain. After four years in that capacity, Company A of the National Guard was formed and Caleb Reinhart was transferred to be captain of that company. Throughout the rest of his life, he was often referred to as “Cap” Reinhart.

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William Winlock Miller

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The following information is reprinted from a poster on display at Olympia High School (formally dedicated as William Winlock Miller High School).

Before the establishment of Washington Territory, William Winlock Miller arrived in Olympia in 1850, with the first commission as an American official in what was then known as Oregon Territory, north of the Columbia River, or Northern Oregon.

His first duties were as customs surveryor, measuring the trade through the Nisqually docks of the British Hudson’s Bay Company for American tariffs.

Miller served as Olympia’s first directly elected mayor, as a member in the Washington Territorial Legislature, as quartermaster general in Governor Stevens’ Territorial Army, as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Washington Territory, and as United States tax collector for the territory.

Miller was an accomplished businessman, having interests in savings and lending before banks came to the Northwest. Settlers were generally cash poor, but land collateral was considerable. Miller untimately developed vast real estate holdings throughout Western Washington.

When Washington Territory’s population was under a couple thousand and travel was by overland trails or boat, Miller raised supplies, equipment and treasury among settlers to provision the Territorial Army for the Indian Wars. For purchasing, he could only offer scrip, un-negotiated promises to pay at a later date that were ultimately authorized years later by Congress, at a discounted value of 71 cents on the dollar.

Miller’s counsel and backing were widely sought by leaders in Washington Territory. He helped in the election of many territorial leaders, including his father-in-law, Judge Obediah McFadden, who served as territorial representative to Congress.

Miller married Mary Margaret McFadden in 1869. They had two children, Winlock and Pendleton. William, Mary and Pendleton are buried at the Masonic Cemetery (in Tumwater, Washington) just off Cleveland Boulevard.

More information:

The following information is reprinted from an Olympia High School alumni directory provided to the City by Winnifred Castle Olsen, January 2009.

William Winlock Miller arrived in Olympia from Illinois in 1851 and became one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the Washington Territory. He was successful in business as well as politics, serving in the legislature and as quartermaster general to territorial Governor Isaac Stevens during the 1855-1856 Indian uprising. He was later appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs by President Buchanan. Mr. Miller’s popularity in the local community was evident when the people of Olympia elected him Mayor for two terms.

William Winlock Miller was born in Greenbury, Kentucky, January 12, 1822. He died on January 14, 1876 at the age of 54 and is buried in the Masonic Cemetary, in Tumwater, Washington.

In 1853, Mary McFadden came from Pennsylvania to the Washington Territory with her family when her father O. B. McFadden was appointed justice of the Territorial Supreme Court. She married William Winlock Miller in 1869 and raised two sons, Winlock and Pendleton. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Miller carried on and expanded the family businesses and remained active in both philanthropic and social activities. In 1906 she donated land for the first high school building in Olympia with the stipulation that it be named in honor of her husband.

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Francis Henry

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Francis Henry

Birth: January 27, 1827, Galena, Il
Death: September 27, 1893, Olympia, WA
Spouse: Eliza B. Henry (Married Yam Hill, Oregon, May 14, 1857)


Francis HenryBorn in Galena, Illinois, January 27, 1827, Francis Henry was the first white child born in Galena. His parents, William and Rachel (McQuigg) Henry, were natives of New York and Connecticut respectively. His father took an active part in the War of 1812, being a Lieutenant of Artillery, and was one of the first settlers of Galena in 1825, where he engaged in the mercentile business. In 1836, William Henry moved with his family to Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where he passed the remainder of his days.

Francis Henry secured his education in the old proverbial “log school house,” walking several miles to improve the simple facilities then offered by the short winter terms. His early manhood was spent in (?) 1847. He received his appointment from General Cass as a Lieutenant of the U.S. Dragoons for the Mexican War serving at the City of Mexico under General Scott. Henry was one of General Scott’s aides all through the war.

After his discharge he joined his family in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and engaged in the study of law under Judge Dunn. In 1851 started for the gold fields of California via Panama; mined at Hangtown, California, (?) and Plaserville. In 1855 he crossed the mountains to Jacksonville, Or. where he found mining profitable for a time. The discovery of gold in Eastern Washington again setting him going, but the Indian War in 1855 saved him from further disappointment. He was a member of several legislatures and two constitutional conventions 1878-1889.

More Information

The following excerpt is from Pioneer Association of the State of Washington posted on the website as part of

Also at the 1886 meeting (Pioneer Association meeting at Yesler’s Hall in Seattle in 1886), Francis Henry suggested that the new association gather material pertinent to the region’s history. Henry, called Olympia’s “town wit, cartoonist and writer of satirical verse” by historian Gordon Newell, authored a poem titled “The Old Settler,” which was later used by restaurateur and Pioneer Association member Ivar Haglund. It included the famous line: “I laugh at the world and its shams, as I think of my happy condition, surrounded by Acres of Clams.”

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Elwood Evans

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On January 28, 1859 the Washington State Territorial Legislature adopted Articles of Incorporation for the Town of Olympia, and appointed Elwood Evans to serve on a 5-person interim Town Board until the first Olympia elections were held.

The interim Board convened for its first meeting on February 12, 1859. At that meeting, Evans and fellow Trustee George A. Barnes were appointed as a Committee to draft ByLaws for the Town Board. On February 24, 1859, the committee of Barnes and Evans presented recommended ByLaws to the Town Board, which were unanimously adopted.

On April 14, 1859, Mr. Evans was appointed by the newly elected Board to a vacant position created by the resignation of William Rutledge. At that meeting, Evans was also selected by his fellow Board Trustees to serve as President of the Town Board for 1859.

Elwood Evans Resources

Northwest Illustrations Collection , Washington State University Libraries, A collection of 53 selected illustrations taken from the rare book, History of the Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington. Elwood Evans was the main contributor to this series of volumes published in 1889, the same year Washington was granted Statehood.

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Thornton McElroy

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Thornton F. McElroy

Born: West Middletown, Pennsylvania, 1825
Died: February 4, 1885 (Buried Masonic Cemetary, Olympia)
Spouse: Sarah Elizabeth (Bates) McElroy (Married October 15, 1847, Pittsfield, Illinois)


T.F. McElroyStarted from Pittsfield, Illinois by ox team, date 1849. Arrival on coast at Oregon City, Oregon Territory in 1849. Incidents on way: The ox team “gave out,” the party divided and Mr. McElroy and another man (name unknown) came on to Oregon City. The original desitnation was California, where Mr. McElroy went by sea in a sailing vessel (Barque Diamond, Capt. Reynard) in October and November 1849. Companions in party: Norton Bates (brother-in-law), others unknown.

Mr. McElroy located in Thurston County in the fall of 1852; and with J. W. Wiley founded the first newspaper, The Columbian, in what is now the State of Washington.

Mr. McElroy was the first master of the first masonic lodge in Washington Territory. He was a member of the first Board of Trustees of the Town of Olympia (appointed by the Territorial Legislature, January 28, 1859), as well as its first treasurer (February to April 1859), and held the office of Mayor of Olympia (1875).

Information filed by Harry B. McElroy (only son of Thurston F. McElroy and Sarah E. McElroy), February, 1918.

More information: 

McElroy Family Papers (1847-1927), held by the University of Washington Special Collections, Manuscript Collection # 0027.

Biographical Note from the UW Special Collections website for the McElroy Family Papers:

Pioneer family.

  • Thorton Fleming McElroy, 1825-1885
  • Sara Collins McElroy, 1827-1894
  • Harry Bates McElroy, 1861-1928

Thornton McElroy joined the gold rush to California, journeyed overland by wagon train to Oregon City, OR, to work on the Oregon Spectator, was sent by Thomas Dryer to Olympia, Washington to establish and publish “The Columbian” in 1852; was Territorial printer (1863-1872), and was foreman of the “Pioneer and Democrat.”

Scope and Content of the McElroy Family Papers:

Family papers, including correspondence of Thornton F. McElroy, Washington Territorial Official; his wife, Sara Collins McElroy; and their son, Harry Bates McElroy; papers relate to an overland journey to California in 1849, the newspaper publishing and printing business in Oregon and Washington Territories, politics in Washington Territory, and social conditions in the Northwest during pioneer period: 1847-1927.

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George Barnes

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Born: Dundee (Yates County), New York
Died: November 18, 1912, Olympia, Washington.
Spouse: Mary Ann Kandle (Married July 1842)


George A Barnes

Started from Fort Wayne, Indiana by team, Spring of 1848. Arrival on coast: Oregon City, Oregon, Fall of 1848. Spent the winter there and then wagoned to the California mines where he stayed until November 1849 when he and his wife took ship for New Orleans via the isthmus and up the Mississippi river to Fort Wayne, Indinana. After passing the winter there, Barnes, his wife, his father, and family came across the plains to Portland, Oregon in 90 days. He arrived in Portland in August 1850 and opened a general merchandise store. In 1852, he sold out the store and came by schooner to Olympia where he continued in the merchandise store business. Later he organized the First State Bank of Olympia and erected Olympia’s first brick building. He continued in business 23 years in all, and then retired to a quiet life.

Mr. Barnes served on the first Portland Council and helped organize the Olympia (Town Board) on which he served several times as well as school boards. Mrs. Barnes was a Pioneer Hostess.

George A. Barnes was appointed to the first Town of Olympia Board of Trustees which convened for its initial meeting on February 12, 1859. At that meeting, he and fellow Trustee Elwood Evans were appointed as a Committee to draft ByLaws for the Town Board. On February 24, 1859, the committee of Barnes and Evans presented recommended ByLaws to the Town Board, which were unanimously adopted.

Mr. Barnes was elected to the Town Board in Olympia’s first general election of Trustees, April 4, 1859. By request of his fellow Trustees, he served as Chairman of the Board for one week, from April 7 – 14, 1859. On April 14, 1859, the Board conducted its first annual election of officers. Elwood Evans was appointed by the Board to serve as Town President for 1859 and George A. Barnes was appointed as Treasurer.

George A. Barnes was subsequently elected by his fellow Trustees as President, Town of Olympia Board of Trustees in 1862, 1866 to 1869, and Mayor in 1880.

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