Mark Foutch, President
As you all know, one of our Olympia Historical Society’s most dedicated members, Roger Easton, died July 2 after a short illness. This was completely unexpected and sent a shock throughout the entire South Sound historic preservation community. Roger was a retired junior high school teacher, but “retired” certainly did not describe him. He was active everywhere in historic preservation and interpretation and it will be quite a while before we are able to understand all of our community’s losses from his passing. At a gathering of Roger’s friends and family members July 18 at the Jacob Smith House, I offered a few remarks on behalf of OHS about my longtime friend and neighbor, ending with this observation:
“I don’t think Roger ever let a minute go to waste. It was a life well lived, and we are very lucky to have had him among us for so long.”
Those who knew him won’t be surprised to learn that Roger years before had prepared meticulously for his passing. He had designated Ed Echtle to catalog his extensive local history collection. Once that’s done Ed’s preliminary plan is to house the collection temporarily at the State Archives. When OHS has its own suitable location to house this and other local history collections and provide for public access, Roger’s collection will go there.
Coincidentally, the Timberland Regional Library system has been holding a series of exploratory meetings to get public input on what a new Olympia library might offer. On July 12 OHS Vice President Tim Ransom, Secretary Anne Kilgannon and I met with acting Olympia librarian Sara Pete’ to share some ideas, including the possibility of a local history archive and research room in a new library. The Board, which met July 2, had already endorsed the idea of naming such a room for Roger Easton. Obviously this is a long-term prospect, and other ideas might take precedence, but for now Roger’s collection is in good hands until OHS can responsibly take physical possession.
Tim, Anne, Collections Chair Susan Goff and I met July 18 with the City of Olympia’s historic preservation officer, Jennifer Kenny. Our goal was to find ways to increase OHS’ visibility and influence with the City Council and staff, and to explore in this time of tight municipal budgets how the City might increase its support of OHS’ local history activities—more in line with the City of Lacey’s support of the Lacey Historical Society. While budgeted support from Olympia is not likely at this time, Jennifer suggested certain in-kind City staff capabilities such as graphics support that would be useful for activities jointly sponsored by the City and OHS. That’s definitely a gap we need filled so her suggestion was most welcome.
And our first opportunity to take advantage of that offer is here, now. Jennifer Kenny tells us that two display cases in the New Caldonia building’s indoor shopping arcade at 106 E. 5th are available and OHS has been invited to fill them with local history exhibits. Anne and Tim are working on that project now. The Olympia Downtown Association and perhaps the Visitor and Convention Bureau will help publicize the exhibits when they’re ready. More later on this.
On July 15 Treasurer Ralph Blankenship, Anne, Tim and I attended the dedication of a display at the State Capital Museum featuring a canoe paddle believed to have belonged to noted Nisqually tribal leader Leschi. Descendants of Leschi and his brother Quiemuth spoke eloquently about their martyred ancestors and their continuing significance to Northwest Indians.
The rest of our summer has ranged from the mundane (Ralph’s getting a second key to the P.O. box so our secretary can pick up the mail when the he is out of town) to the spectacular:
On July 29 nearly one hundred canoes from tribes all the way from South Puget Sound to the ocean coast of Vancouver Island and beyond converged at the Port of Olympia’s North Point for the 2012 Canoe Journey, “Paddle to Squaxin.” The host Squaxin Island Tribe, with help from the entire community, turned out thousands of spectators to welcome the visitors. OHS was lucky to get a table at the State Capital Museum/Washington State Historical Society’s booth. Anne and Tim created a display that pictured Native American sites in downtown Olympia along with photographs of what’s there now, each with a narrative and keyed to a map that also showed the original waterline and later “made land” from dredging and filling. Our table got a lot of attention in the midst of many attractions and distractions. Great work, Anne and Tim! Thanks also to Susan Rohrer and Shanna Stevenson at the Museum for letting us share their booth. Besides our “regulars” who helped staff the booth, special thanks go to Joan Bower, Steve Lundin, Elizabeth McHugh, and Theresa Scott who helped out. A great effort and lots of visibility for OHS!
Incidentally, Ralph Blankenship did our early coordination with the Museum staff and the Squaxin Island Tribe, then volunteered many hours to help make the tribe’s multiday host duties successful.
Three upcoming events: OHS will partner with the Washington State Historical Society with a display table at the Olympia Farmer’s Market September 13, the starting point for a walking tour of Native American historic sites downtown. Our next general membership meeting will be in October at the Masonic Lodge on North Street in Tumwater, marking the lodge’s 160 years in our area. Also in October, the next Thurston County Through the Decades event will take place in Tumwater. More details to follow.
Board member Brian Tomlinson, who did such a great job on May’s Thurston County Through the Decades event, tells us he will be resigning from the Board. His new job takes him away so often that he can’t reliably attend Board meetings. We’ll miss Brian, and now we need another dedicated OHS member to step forward so we can maintain the Bylaws-prescribed minimum of seven members. (See Tim Ransom’s article, below.)
Finally: In the Spring newsletter I noted the 10th anniversary of OHS’ incorporation. We’d been sensing that our own history was getting away from us, and the topic interested me so much that I took it on myself. Part One of “Origins of the Olympia Historical Society follows. Thanks to Susan Goff for access to her beautifully-organized files from the OHS Collection!
Background: For many decades Olympia was content to depend on the State Capital Museum for its local history venue and a place to store many of its important historical assets. In the early ‘90s it appeared that the Art Deco Thurston County Courthouse on Capitol Way would be torn down and a State History Museum built on that site. But the courthouse was saved for adaptive reuse and the new History Museum ended up in Tacoma. Then, after it was determined that the old Lord family mansion housing the State Capital Museum was not suitable for long-term archival use, its “Olympia Collection” went to Tacoma, also. For years after that the local historic preservation community has variously muttered about the move of “our” history to Tacoma, or wondered about how to develop a facility to bring it back. A bond issue for a new Olympia library, which might have included such a room, failed twice in 1997.
Local history and preservation advocates Rebecca Christie,
author of the neighborhood history Workingman’s Hill, and Annamary Fitzgerald, then-Executive Director of the Bigelow House Preservation
Association, met when both served on the Olympia Heritage Commission. Both recognized the need for a local history repository and a community-based preservation advocacy organization.
While doing research for her book, Rebecca became aware of historical materials stored in closets, basements, attics and garages. Many families expressed a desire to have a place where they could donate their materials to be preserved and available to researchers and the general public.
So on August 19, 2001, Rebecca Christie, Annamary Fitzgerald and Liza Rognas signed and sent out letters addressed to “Dear Friend of Olympia History.” Recipients were invited to a community potluck meal at Rebecca’s home Sunday evening, September 9.
This letter identified the “Need: Identify, collect and preserve our community’s rich and rapidly vanishing/dispersing historical record,” and then asked, “ How can we locate, gather and house the historic materials currently held in private collections….?” and “What can concerned members of the community do to support other ongoing heritage-related projects?” Attendees would meet for a “…brainstorm discussion and to get the ball rolling.”
The meeting agenda included:
Refining the Statement of Need, selecting the Intended Audience, and drafting a Statement of Purpose. This last was determined to be, “To identify, preserve, protect, promote, interpret and perpetuate resources associated with the history of the City of Olympia and its identified growth area.”
The file contains no attendance list for this first get-together, but the group did set up “Identified Committees” with these members:
Invitation List: Rebecca Christie, Shanna Stevenson, Winnie Olsen
Program: Drew Crooks, Pat Harper, Shanna Stevenson
PR/Publicity: Liza Rognas, Randy Stilson
Mission Development: Bob Arnold
Today, some attendees believe that Roger Easton and Susan Goff also were at that first meeting.Perhaps others were also.
The group concluded its work by outlining “Next Steps:
Identify Stakeholders for an Organizational Meeting
Hold Organizational Meeting
Establish an Olympia Historical Society”
On November 8, 2001, a short item in The Olympian confirmed
that the group was actively pursuing its goals:
“A gathering to explore forming an Olympia Historical Society is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 10), at the Thurston County Courthouse, Building 1, Room 152. For more information call Annamary Fitzgerald, ….”
A flier for this meeting listed hosts Annamary Fitzgerald,
Rebecca Christie, Winnifred Olsen, Shanna Stevenson, Pat Harper, Drew Crooks,
Randy Stilson,and Bob Arnold. Meeting sponsors were listed as “…interested
individuals and the Conservation Associates of the Pacific Northwest.”
Two vintage engravings grace the reverse of this flier. One shows a girl on the shore collecting shellfish which she held in the front of her gathered-up dress, while just offshore
a Native American fisher in a traditional canoe casts a net. The image was framed with oyster shells. The second engraving shows a bustling port and city viewed from the Westside, with the wooden bridge to “Marshville” and downtown in the right background and a departing steamboat in the foreground. Mt. Rainier rises in the far distance. (These two images would later be considered for an official OHS logo.)
The group’s publicity effort brought a very credible response:
Present at this key meeting were: Gerry Alexander, Bob Arnold, Karen Bowen, Ann
Christensen, Rebecca Christie, Marilyn Connon, Drew Crooks, Spencer Daniels,
Lauren Danner, Edward Echtle, Lynn Erickson, Lois Fenske, Annamary Fitzgerald,
Chuck Fowler, Susan Goff, Beverly Gunstone, Pat Harper, Dorothy Hernes,
Genevieve Hupe’, Russ Hupe’, Dick Johnson, Agnes Kelley, David Kindle, Bonnie
Marie, Winnie Olsen, Susan O’Neal, Susan Parish, Liza Rognas, Don Roselle, Lila
Sjodin, Shanna Stevenson, Randy Stilson, Ed Swan, Kathleen Turner, Lanny Weaver,
Diana Wilkowski, Sandy Yannone, and Tom Zahn.
The agenda included:
Speaker: Chief Justice Gerry Alexander,
on the topic, “An Olympia Historical Society—A Good Idea”
Motion to organize an O.H.S.
Motion empowering the temporary chair to appoint a Committee on Organization,
responsible for drafting a
Constitution and Bylaws.
Committees and Interest Areas (signup sheet)
Discussion and Adjourn
After Chief Justice Alexander’s remarks, the group set to
work. Susan Parish moved, seconded by Ed
Swan, that an Olympia Historical Society be established “on this day, Saturday,
November 10, 2001.” There was no
discussion and the motion passed unanimously.
Drew Crooks then moved that “Temporary Chair Annamary Fitzgerald
be authorized to appoint a Steering Committee to continue the organizing (of)
the Olympia Historical Society.” Rebecca
Christie seconded the motion. Concern
was raised about the possibility of duplicating the work of the State Capital
Museum. Chuck Fowler volunteered to be
the liaison between the Museum and the Olympia Historical Society. There was no further discussion and the
motion passed unanimously.
Committees were named:
Organization (Steering Committee), Collections, Education and Programs,
Membership, Finance and Fundraising, and Outreach and Publications.
The next meeting was set for Saturday, January 26, 2002, at
the same location. Its main order of
business would be to adopt Articles of Incorporation, to appoint a nominating committee
that would present a slate of officers for a Board of Directors, and to set up
The minutes were signed by Patricia Carol Harper, Acting
The Olympia Historical Society had been born.
(End of Part One)
It would seem, then,
that 2012 is actually OHS’ 11th birthday year, not its 10th. I’d always assumed that filing the Articles
of Incorporation with the Secretary of State’s office marked the most significant
date, not considering all the hard work it had taken to get to that point. And, given the caliber of all those involved
in OHS’ conception and gestation, it’s not at all surprising that the process
was most impressively organized and carried out meticulously. Many of those dedicated community volunteers
are still active in local historic preservation; a few are no longer with
us. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.
Anne Kilgannon, Secretary
In a new history column featured in the online news source
ThurstonTalk.com, blogger Emmett O’Connell writes about a little known historic
site in downtown Olympia. Now the location of the Olympia community center, in
the 1850s Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens had his first office built there
near the waterfront and first businesses of the pioneer town. Infamously, it
was here that Nisqually warrior Quiemuth was brought during the closing days of
the Indian war and foully murdered. No one was ever charged or prosecuted,
although many claimed to know the name of the perpetrator. O’Connell, unusual
for a blogger, helpfully includes not only links to other works on this
subject, but citations to source materials so that other readers may explore
this subject for themselves. His skillful probing of the mystery also
demonstrates the historian-detective mind at work, turning over the clues and
sifting through the sources to uncover the past. Click on http://www.thurstontalk.com/category/history-2/
for this story and check this space in the future for more insightful writing
on local history topics.
Another new blog explores local history from a different
angle. Heather Lockman has been writing about Olympia history for years but her
work and commentary is now available online at www.heatherlockman.com for easy
perusal. Here you will discover that she is the author of many of the
interpretive signs you’ve enjoyed around town, those concise nuggets that call
attention to some facet of the past and add a storied dimension to familiar
places. Lockman humorously recalls the joys and terrors of saving the local
historic gem, the Bigelow House, for future generations and other adventures in
the historic preservation trenches. Her hilarious tales entertain yet engage
the reader to take the work of preserving and explaining historic sites
seriously, to appreciate how and why “the past is important” and to take the
time to study all those road and trailside markers. The past is everywhere,
just waiting for us to notice. Brimming with intelligence and passion for
history, Lockman is more than an armchair historian’s guide; she entices us to
get out and find our own favorite places that tell the story of Olympia and
Tim Ransom, Vice President
Interested in the history of where you live? Want to know more about the people who lived there first, the Native Americans, the pioneers and other early settlers? Want to know what it all looked like twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago? Want to help uncover interesting stories about the “good old days,” and to share them with kids and other members of our community, even your neighbors?
Well, then the Olympia Historical Society is the place for you! In its 10th Anniversary year, the OHS is offering opportunities to volunteers, including those interested in becoming a member of the Board of Trustees, to help fulfill its mission of perpetuating the heritage of Olympia by identifying and collecting historical materials, documenting them through research, and interpreting them through exhibits, presentations and other educational avenues.
The opportunities to get involved are many and varied, from short-term projects to longer-term commitments to organizational growth, including board membership. Activities recently completed or needing to be done, for example, include:
- Staffing an interpretive booth at the Squaxin Tribe’s Canoe Journey event;
- Preparing the interpretive materials for that event—“then” and “now” images of downtown sites that were historically important to Native Americans;
- Helping to plan the future and mission of the Society with Board members and colleagues from other historical groups;
- Setting priorities and conducting business as a member of the Board;
- Establishing a scholarship for history-minded high school students.
OHS is especially in need of at least one more Board member right now (as mandated by the bylaws), but everyone, no matter your level of interest, ability or time available, is welcome to join us in the fascinating work of making Olympia’s history relevant today. Remember: as George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Sometimes it seems that is not such a bad idea—those “good old days” again—but probably not really!)
Please contact OHS Board member Anne Kilgannon at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 357-7191 to find out more.