[This article by local historian Bernice Sapp was included in Gordon Newell’s small book, “So Fair a Dwelling Place,” fully transcribed here
by Ed Echtle. Miss Sapp wrote this about 1950, so her title, Olympia 100 Years Ago, is not meant to be taken literally. Ed Echtle has helpfully created a Google Earth map pinpointing the locations spoken of in this article. In addition, where Miss Sapp refers to locations included in Where Are We? we will be inserting hyperlinks to those pages as time permits]
View Olympia 100 Years Ago by Bernice A Sapp in a larger map
In the area bounded by the then waterfront, Second Street and Third Street (now
State), and Fourth Street and Columbia and Washington, was most of Olympia 100 years
ago. Crowded in these few blocks were all of the buildings of the Town of Olympia, laid
out by Sylvester in 1850 and incorporated as a town in 1859.
Here was the home of Levi Lathrop Smith, first owner of the townsite of Olympia;
he lived in a log cabin which was shared by Edmund Sylvester, his partner. A building
which Sylvester built later contained the famous Gold Bar Restaurant. Upstairs, the first
legislature of the Territory was held in 1854. Facing Second Street was the first Masonic
Temple. On one corner was Bettman’s Store; on the other were the buildings of Governor
Stevens surveying party. Percivals and Munsons lived down there, and on the corner where
the City Hall is, stood the stable of Rice Tilley, owner of the first Overland Stages. Across
the street was the New England Hotel and the Pacific House – two early hotels of Olympia.
Here Stevens stopped after his long overland journey.
On the corner of Second and Washington stood the building which housed the
Washington Standard for over half a century. Next door, the home of John Miller Murphy,
proprietor and editor of the Washington Standard. Murphy was a brother-in-law of George
A. Barnes who had a general merchandise store in the next block. Barnes also started the
first bank in the Territory which still stands just south of the Daily Olympian building. The
site of the Daily Olympian once was a two-story brick building built by Charles
Burmeister, a saloon keeper. Becky Howard, a negro woman, ran the Pacific House, owned
and built by Colonel Cock.
Over on Columbia Street were John Clark and family who ran the Columbia Hotel.
On the corner of Columbia and Third (now State) was a wagon shop. The top floor, or
story, of the wagon shop was Olympia’s first theater. A furniture store across the street
became the scene of an early school conducted by Annie Stevens. Around the block on
Main Street was the Woodruff Building; one of the first music stores was below, and one
of the first post offices.
On the northwest corner of Main and Fourth stood the residence of Sam Williams,
the hardware man. This house is still here, having been moved to a location just south of
the Y.M.C.A. North of Williams’ house stood his hardware store. After the house was
moved away, Toklas and Kauffman had a drygoods store on the corner, where Mottman’s
Store is now. On the southwest corner was the scene of the first circus.
On the northeast corner was the first water system in Olympia – a town pump where
Indians and whites came to draw water and exchange gossip. Maybe this was the reason
the newspapers have remained on the block so long. Afterwards, the Chambers Building
was erected on this corner and still stands there.
On the southeast corner of Main and Fourth was the Turner Block, built by Dr.
George Turner, the first licensed pharmacist in the Territory. Many governors had offices
in this block, upstairs and handy to the “Capitol”, just across the street. In the Chambers
Block, in an early day, Julian Guyot, formerly of Switzerland, became the first jeweler in
the Territory of Washington. Talcotts came later, in 1873, but have continued in business
all the years. George and Grant Talcott were the makers of the State Seal.
Continuing on around the block on Fourth Street and Washington stood the home
of Thos. Prather, early Indian fighter, who lived to be nearly 90 years old. Across the
street, on the northeast corner of Washington and Fourth, was the home of Burmeister, also
his saloon. On the southeast corner of Fourth and Washington, where the Security Building
stands, was Mann’s Drug Store. Across the alley, on Washington, was the old Odd Fellow’s
Hall, where one of the early schools was conducted by Mary O’Neill. Across Washington
the other corner by the alley was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Ott, also from
Switzerland – with them were their sons, Walter and Henry, and daughter, Gertrude, now
Gertrude Ott Martin. Then on the northwest corner of Fifth and Washington stood the
Tilley home; across on the southwest corner of Fifth and Washington, Doane’s Restaurant,
home of the Oyster Pan Roast, and rendezvous, of Captain Woodbury Doane, a retired sea
On the southeast corner of Fifth and Washington, about midway of the block, was
the home of Thomas Milburn Reed, Territorial Auditor. The Olympic Theater stands about
where the Reed home stood. Reed built the block on the northeast corner of Washington
and Sixth (now Legion Way). Where the Olympian Hotel stands, stood the home of
Tarbells; north of them were Hamer’s, the first undertaker, and west of them, Carroll’s,
parents of Mrs. Walter Beals. South of Carroll’s, on the southeast [northeast] corner of
Capitol Way and Legion Way where the new building for Miller Brothers is, was the home
of Governor Stevens.
Where the Harris’ Store was, stood Grainger’s Livery Stable, operated by Wm.
Littlejohn. Grainger’s house was across on the other side of Main Street. On the northeast
corner of Main and Sixth, [Capitol and Legion] where
Penney’s Store is now, was the home of Peterfield Turpin. On the southwest corner of
Main and Sixth stood the Charles Talcott residence.
Next, going south, was the Ike Ellis house where the Elks’ building stands; then the
Episcopal Church where the Hotel Governor stands. Next was the Unitarian Church in the
middle of Seventh, and then the T. I. McKenney House. Then in succession, a block-
house, burned up; U.S. Land Office, burned down; Olympia Hotel Building, which burned
in 1904 – all where the Post Office is now. On the southeast corner of Main and Sixth, at
the corner of Sylvester Park, was a block-house used in Indian War days. After the war, it
was used as a jail. Speaking of jails – one of the earliest was the large brick jail, two stories
high, which stood about where the flats are in back of the First Presbyterian Church on
Legion Way. The jail was there long after the turn of the century, until it was torn down.
Why a jail in a place like that? Well, the courthouse from an early day was only a block
away on the southeast corner of Legion Way and Washington; afterwards the courthouse
was on the northwest corner of Legion Way and Franklin. Then, in 1890, the large stone
courthouse was built which is now a part of the old downtown Capitol, facing Sylvester
Edmund Sylvester’s house was erected in 1857 on Eighth Street, between
Washington and the present Capitol Way. He donated the land for Sylvester Park, and land
for the Masonic Temple, and 10 acres for the Capitol grounds.
Across the street is the Thornton McElroy house, another old land- mark. Where
the bus station is, was the Harris house, still standing on another location at 7th and
Adams. At Seventh and Adams are the old Harris house, the Alexander Farquhar house
and the T.M. Reed house, all made over into apartment houses. On Eighth and Jefferson
still stands the remains of the old Jefferson Hotel constructed by Farquhar. It was once
known as the Capitol Hotel – now is the Baird.
Farquhar once built and owned a huge barn down on the waterfront on Seventh and
Jefferson, which fell down in a snowstorm, killing his stock. The hardware store he had on
the southeast corner of Seventh and Adams was later used as a legislative building, was the
scene of a Governor’s Ball, was used as the State Printing Office, and last, as the State
Armory, harboring the supplies of the Adjutant General’s office. On the southwest corner
of Eighth and Adams, is the old Territorial manse of the First Presbyterian Church [moved here around 1910 from original site near Franklin and Legion]. Next
door is the old home of Dr. Nathaniel Ostrander, a pioneer physician, who was a member
of the Cowlitz Convention at Monticello which sent the Memorial to Congress to create
the Territory of Washington. This house was built about 1875. He also built around the
block, which he owned, houses for his daughters as they married; the Walter Crosby house,
the Fanny Moore house, the Mike O’Connor house, are all in the block. (The O’Connor
house has been torn down.)
Further south on Adams Street are the McFadden house; the William Billings
house, home of the pioneer sheriff; the old school house [building at current location at Union and Adams]; the Howard flat, built by a son of
Becky Howard; the old Ben John’s house, built by a pioneer schoolteacher who held the
first kindergarten in her living room (Mrs. Houghton). The Fidelia Boyd house on 11th and
Adams has been torn down, but her first home is still standing on Franklin Street. She was
the first Mrs. Baker, then Mrs. George Turner, then Mrs. Boyd. Bush Baker is her son.
There are an endless number of old houses all over Olympia: the Chambers house,
on Water Street; the Anders house, on 19th and Capitol Way; some old houses on Maple
Park; the William Sternberg house and old waterwheel was on East Union Street; Ike Ellis
logging camp in that vicinity.
I am returning now to East Bay Drive in order to get in a school building. I almost
overlooked the Olympia Collegiate Institute at Second and Pear. It was organized in 1875
and operated until the early ’90s as a school for the whole northwest. This school is
deserving of a marker.
The old Bigelow home is on Glass Street. The first water system in Olympia was
on East Bay Drive, built by Wm. Horton, and the second brewery in Olympia was East
Bay Drive; the Robert Frost home was there; the Sally Eaton home; the Pattison home was
on Second Street; the Galliher’s donation claim was down toward the park. The
Whitworth’s was in back of the park, the St. Joseph’s Mission just outside the entrance of
the park. The land was acquired for this mission in 1848. An Indian graveyard just south of
HISTORIC BUILDINGS ON FRANKLIN STREET
Starting at Fourth Avenue, going south, the Olympic Hotel is on the site of an early
theater in Olympia, at Fourth and Franklin on the southeast corner. On the southeast corner
of the next block was the C. B. Mann house where Mann’s Seed Store is now. Next was the
J. J. Gilbert house (house torn down). He was head man of the U. S. Geodetic Coast
Survey. Next stands the Chas. Williams house. This once stood where Mottman’s Store is
now at Fourth and Main. On the southwest corner of Franklin and Fifth Street stood the
first real telephone building in Olympia. They had a telephone company before that, but
they were always in rented buildings. The home of Williamson, the logger, was next, high
on the hill. Next south of that, on the hillside, was the first American schoolhouse, north of
Columbia River and west of the Rocky Mountains, on the northeast corner of Franklin and
Sixth Street (Legion Way). Later in this building were the Courthouse and the Daily
On the opposite corner, on the southeast corner of Legion Way, and Franklin
Street, was the First Presbyterian Church, erected in 1862. Olympia had the first church of
this denomination organized north of the Columbia River on the shores of Puget Sound.
The church itself was organized in 1854 in a cooper shop on Fifth and Columbia, but held
Sunday School and church for eight or ten years in the old schoolhouse on the opposite
corner of Legion and Franklin. This church building is still standing and is used by Gloria
Dei Lutheran Church (on Adams between Legion Way and 5th).
On the west side of the next block stands the old Thurston County Courthouse,
built in 1892 and added onto about 1905 for a Capitol. Next to the Presbyterian Church and
across the alley was a low piece of ground where stood the home of Jack Baldwin, pioneer
logger. This house was afterwards occupied by Captain Hatch of Steamboat fame. The
house stood there until the present public [Carnegie] library was built on the spot. The lot
was filled in. As evidence that the lot was low, notice the holes in the sidewalk on the
Seventh Avenue side for a fence which was there once. Across the way on the opposite
side is the old Kauffman house, owned by the man who had the Kauffman store. The
Kauffman house is an ancient edifice with a square roof and a small balcony on the upper
story. South of the Kauffman home is the John Scott and Mary Jane Scott house. He was
an early saloon keeper. She had lived here nearly all of her 82 years, having come from
Liverpool, England at the age of two. Next south of that on the northeast corner of Franklin
and Eighth Street was the house of Sam Willey, a pioneer logger. This home was
afterwards occupied by some people who were related to the Willeys and the house was
known as the Leighton house.
On the southwest corner of Eighth and Franklin were the five houses built by
Lafayette Willey, and occupied for most of his life by Sam. Willey II, his son, who lived in
the corner house and rented the others. They are still standing there. The elder Willey
logged with ox teams, then was the owner of the Willey Navigation Company which
operated steamboats on Puget Sound. Sam Willey II was born here and lived here all his
On the northeast corner of Eighth and Franklin is the site of the old First Christian
Church, organized in 1890; this building was torn down. It occupied most of the corner.
South of the Willey houses and on the northwest corner of Ninth and Franklin is the old
Bettman house. He was a pioneer merchant, having one of the first stores in town at the
corner of Second and Main Street. (The old Bettman store near Fourth and Capitol Way is
still there, but was recently sold to a new concern after nearly 100 years in business in
Olympia.) West of the Bettman house is the Oppenheimer house, belonging to a son-in-
law of Bettman.
The block bounded by Eighth and Ninth, and Adams and Franklin, was known as
the Ostrander Block, so called for Dr. Nathaniel Ostrander, pioneer physician, who arrived
in Olympia about 1875 and thereafter built most of the old houses in the block. Besides the
Ostrander house, facing Eighth Street, are the Fanny Moore house
still standing, and the Michael O’Connor house which stood on the northeast corner of
Ninth and Franklin, and which was torn down in 1948.
Next east of that was the Walter Crosby house and next the Pixler house which
formerly was the Ostrander barn. East of that, on the corner, was the large house known as
the Billings house, occupied by Janette Billings, the widow of William Billings, pioneer
sheriff. Just south of that, on the next corner, is the little old house where the Billings lived
in the early ’70s; here Frederick Billings was born. Billings, about 1874, built a brick
house, one of the first in the Territory, on the lot where now stands the Mottman house at
9th and Washington. The next block, bounded by Ninth and Tenth streets, and Adams and
Franklin, was known as the Brown Block. Mrs. Brown was a sister of Edmund Sylvester.
Their house stood on the northwest corner of Tenth and Adams. There were several Mrs.
Browns in those days, and to distinguish them, they were known as: Cold-Water Brown or
On the block bounded by Ninth and Tenth, and Franklin and Washington, were two
of the early pioneer churches of Olympia. On the southwest corner of Ninth and Franklin
was the Unitarian Church, built by that denomination, and also the flats facing Tenth
Street; these flats were known as the Unitarian flats. This church was bought years later by
the Baptist denomination. On the opposite side of the block, facing Washington, is the old
Episcopal Church, built about 1890 and still in use. The old Episcopal manse, or Parish
House, which stood for many years on the southeast corner of Ninth and Washington
streets, was torn down years ago to make room for the new Parish House. Down in back of
the Parish House stood the old Holman house, one of the oldest houses in town. (Mrs. Fred
Sylvester is a grand-daughter of Holman; Arno Glidden is a grandson). Where the Baptist
Church stands, once stood a sawmill in the early days, a log pond was in the block, and the
bay was not far away to the east.
On the southeast corner of Tenth and Franklin is the palatial residence, on a hill, of
Sam Williams, the pioneer hardware man. This is the second house he built. (He was a
brother of Mrs. Harry McElroy.) West of that is the Addie Wood house, and next the
Woman’s Clubhouse. On that corner once stood the home of Judge Sparks. This home was
used for years as a Woman’s Clubhouse until the present clubhouse was built in 1908.
Then the Sparks house was moved over to Adams in the middle of the block between
Ninth and Tenth streets. Here the first Christian Science Church was organized and used
the building as a church until they built the present Christian Science Church building on
the southeast corner of Eighth and Washington. Here once stood the home of G. Rosenthal,
Going south from the Woman’s Clubhouse is the home of Helen Cowles and J.
Todd Cowles; her brother and Annie Cowles Claypool, born in Olympia. On the northeast
corner of Washington and Union, where the home of Mrs. J. W. Mowell now stands, once
stood one of the most historic school buildings in Olympia. This was first built for the
Puget Sound Wesleyan Institute, then bought for a courthouse, then leased for a young
ladies seminary, and last was the old Central School. It was moved to the southwest corner
of Union and Adams in two pieces and still stands there – the main part facing Union and
the other part facing Adams. To this school from the earliest days trooped the children of
the pioneers. Among these pupils of Old Central School was Harry Crosby, the father of
Bing Crosby. John Miller Murphy, pioneer newspaperman, attended the old institute.
On the southwest corner of Tenth and Adams is the old Kearney house, on the hill.
On the northwest corner of Union and Franklin stands the G. F. Kearney house recently
sold for a Y.W.C.A. Across the street, on the northeast corner of Union and Franklin, is the
old Woodard house, and north of that the old Dr. J. M. Steele house – over 85 years old.
Next west of the old schoolhouse, on the corner of Union and Adams, is the old home of
Mrs. Raggermeyer, a German woman, who ran a private school in her home. She taught
German, French and music.
On the southeast corner of Washington and Union, on a high point of ground, is the
old Rose [Ross?] O’Brien house, occupied so many years by the daughter, Hazel Aetzel –
now her daughter, Virginia and husband live there (Mr. and Mrs. Robert Schmidt). So this
makes about the fifth generation of that family to live in Olympia; on that same property is
a little old house where once lived John B. Allen, a United States Senator, the first librarian
in the Territory.
On the southwest corner of Twelfth and Adams is the William Campbell house. He
was an old pioneer who became blind crossing the plains. The house is very old and of a
type commonly built in pioneer days – large fireplace, a large pantry, big hall, etc. On the
northeast corner of Adams and Twelfth stand the Howard Flats, part of which are occupied
by a grocery store. These flats were built by the son of Becky Howard, a Negro woman,
who ran the Pacific House. The son was a mixture of Negro, Chinese and Indian [sic].
On the southeast corner of Twelfth and Adams is the old B. F. Johns property, but
he didn’t build it. It was built by a family by the name of Houghton. Mrs. Houghton taught
the first kindergarten in town. Two of her star pupils were Carrie Williams, afterwards
Carrie McElroy, and George Tarbell. She taught them their French and Latin. George
Tarbell lived in this same house when he was 85 years old, when the house was sold. Mrs.
Houghton taught the Masonic Temple School also.
On the southeast corner of Franklin and Eleventh (or maybe 12th) is a high level
piece of ground. On it, at the back of the lot, is the old Paisley house. In this house once
lived Fidelia Baker Turner Boyd. She had just come west from old Kentucky, and had
brought along a negro for a servant. She lived there for years until she moved to Eleventh
and Adams where she died when she was past 90 years of age. (Gladys Horton Johnson is
A house that is one of the oldest and has one of the most interesting histories is the
old William Winlock Miller house at about Cherry and
Eighth Avenues. The house sets back from Eighth Street, in a grove of trees, which is
known as the orchard. He was Quartermaster General for Governor Isaac Stevens during
the Indian War. It is presumed that he built the house about that time – in the middle ’50s.
The old house has a very large kitchen as was customary in those days. The boards in the
floors of the kitchen and the other rooms were very wide, almost a foot, and of rough
lumber. The panels of the rooms were of boards placed up and down, or stood on end. The
Olympia High School was named after this man, because his widow gave a block of land
in the present Capitol grounds for the high school in 1908. This is one of the historic
houses or spots in Olympia that should be marked. It is down by the railroad tracks and I
think is owned by the railroad. The Martensens lived on this property in an early day. One
of the Martensen girls married George A. Mottman. The other girl became Mrs. Harbst.
Emil Martensen was a brother. Mrs. Chris Nommensen was one of the Martensen girls.
Down in that same vicinity, on Jefferson Street and Tenth, stands an old, weather-
beaten, unpainted, forlorn-looking house – standing back among the trees. That is the first
priest’s house, for the Catholic parish, and was moved there years ago from Tenth and
Columbia streets. Where Temple Beth Hatfiloh stands, near the corner of Eighth and
Jefferson, once stood the home of Selucious Garfielde, who was once a delegate to
Congress but was defeated by Judge O. B. McFadden. He was a famous orator of that early
day and campaigned up and down the Sound in Indian canoes, paddled by Indians. The
house is gone now, the Jewish Temple being on the spot. Garfielde was a charter member
of the Masonic Lodge. He married the widow Varner. Varner had a logging camp over on
Union which was afterwards taken over by Ike Ellis. There were two Garfielde boys:
Charles and Guy.
In that early day, the salt water extended to Union Street. Clem Johnston, said he
used to walk logs across Union to get to the camp buildings which were in the vicinity of
Plum and Pear streets. The logs were brought in from Chambers Lake on a tram road, the
cars being hauled by mules, then at the top of the hill the mules would be unhitched and
the cars would ramble clear to Union where the logs were dumped in the water. On Union
in this same vicinity, between Plum and Pear, across Union Street, was the old William
Sternberg house. He was a pioneer furrier who traded with the Indians in furs. His son,
William, had a cabinet shop there and also a big waterwheel in Moxlie Creek to use in
connection with his shop. These were landmarks in early days but are gone now. Clem
Johnston’s house was built in 1879, and it is still there.
At the end of Cherry Street and Eleventh Avenue stands the old Henry Dittman
house which he built in the early ’70s. He came here in 1873 from Chicago and before that
from Germany. He had learned the weaving trade in Germany, but in Chicago did
carpenter work. His widow lived long after him until she was 93 years ago and never spoke
a word of English. Amelia Dittman, daughter, taught in the schools
for 46 years.
Next to the Dittman house was an orchard known as the Thos. Prather orchard. Dr.
F.A. Longaker bought the land from Mrs. J. D. Knox and moved about nine houses onto
the block off the Capitol grounds. One of these houses was the Thos. Mcleay house;
another was the John Percival house. Another was the Ace Rowe house, and many others;
also the Louise Ayer house.
On the southwest corner of Chestnut and Twelfth Street is the old square-roofed
house which was built by a John Slisby, a native of Maine who came to Olympia in 1878.
He was a pioneer grocer who had a grocery store in the old Episcopal Church which stood
where the Governor Hotel stands now. The classic yarn about this store is that Bob Lee,
son of the Presbyterian minister, on Hallowe’en tacked up the following sign on the church,
“My House was a House of Prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves”. Needless to say,
there was many a chuckle as the early passersby going to work saw the sign, but the irate
grocer tore it down when he arrived later.
In the jungle of fruit trees and other trees across Chestnut Street was the home of
James Swan, the original plattor of Swantown. The whole Eastside was his donation claim,
and could only be reached by crossing the body of water. He built a very large house,
although he was a bachelor. Some said the house was to be some kind of a home for men.
Whatever the idea was, it was never used for that purpose. The old house and the orchard
are still there at Eleventh and Chestnut. Swan originally lived over on the Eastside in the
vicinity of Second Street, about where the Pattison house was built. Pattison platted out an
addition over there.
One old landmark that was built in 1890 at the southeast corner of Thirteenth and
Cherry was the old Lincoln School. It was a very large brick structure that nearly fell down
on account of a severe storm while it was being built, so that in later years it had to be
propped up some. However, several generations of Olympia children attended school down
here, before it was torn down. The old steps at the corner of the block are plainly visible,
worn smooth by childish feet.
At the end of Fourteenth East are two houses worthy of mention. One is the old
Butler house or McBratney home. McBratneys had a livery stable. Mrs. Ben Turner and
her daughter, Mrs. Balch, lived there in their later years. Mrs. Balch died in the house. The
real Ben Turner house was in the block between 18th and 19th and Franklin and
Washington. He was a pioneer logger about whom many colorful takes are told.
At the end of East Fourteenth Street, on the south side of the street, on a high bank,
stands the old Whitney house. He logged with ox teams. Fred Reichel and his wife now
live in the old Whitney house. It is at the end of the trail as it were; in the late ’70s, this was
a logging road and logs were rolled over the hill to be taken to the Bay on Union Street.