Old Olympia Landmarks
By Georgiana Blankenship
From Washington State Library manuscript collection MS0037
Transcribed by Deborah Ross
Transcriber’s Note: Double spaced, typed article, undated but probably around 1927 or 1928. It has been marked up by an unknown annotator with corrections and updates (e.g., when a building existed at the time of the original typing, but no longer exists). Transcriptions show updates/annotations in italics. Where the original wording was crossed out, the word will be crossed out with annotation in italics. On a few occasions I added identifying brackets, to provide additional clarity to the text. Hyperlinks are to locations with Where Are We? and Residents pages in the Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum website, or to external webpages that provide additional information/images.
Georgiana Blankenship, nee Mitchell, 1839-1936, was an early historian and long-time resident of Olympia. She married George Blankenship, another long-time resident, after divorcing her first husband. In 1914 she published Early History of Thurston County, which contains a history of the county as well as interviews with early pioneers and their descendants (see Bibliography for link to transcript/reproduction of this work).
The date for the original manuscript can be narrowed down to around 1927: the current Legislative Building had been completed or was nearly complete (finished in 1927), and 6th Avenue had not yet been renamed Legion Way (1928).
Link here for an interactive map of Olympia locating the various landmarks described in the manuscript.
The Biblical injunction “destroy not the old landmarks” has been set at defiance, and time, the devastator, as well as the spirit of those who followed the pioneers in that period between the first settlement on Puget Sound in 1845 and the beginning of the twentieth century have all but obliterated the early landmarks that characterized the little town of Olympia. These landmarks were not built for permanency and there is a far cry from the era of strict frugality, the home woven attire of the men and the checked gingham apron and sunbonnet of the women to this day of lipsticked, cigarette and painted toe nails of the ladies of today.
The waterfront improvement started with Browns wharf, where the Buchanan mill is now situated, and later what was known as Giddings wharf, at the foot of old Main street was built to accommodate the few steamers that plied the waters of Puget Sound, notably the old Eliza Anderson that ran from Olympia to Victoria and way ports, making a weekly round trip. In the absence of deep water channels the dock was eventually replaced by a mile long dock to reach deep water. These aids to early shopping are now but a memory and have been replaced by the Port of Olympia, with adequate equipment, and there are channels dredged deep enough to accommodate the largest ocean going vessels.
The old wooden bridge that formerly connected Olympia proper with Marshville (now the westside) has been replaced by a concrete bridge that will endure the age. The Swantown bridge that connected the town with what was then known as Swantown but what we now call the eastside, has disappeared and the arm of Budd’s Inlet that reached above Union street has been filled and it would now require a vivid imagination to picture duck hunters taking their game on the wing from a bridge extending from Jefferson street to east shore.
Sometime about the year 1860 Capt. S.W. Percival acquired the property situated at the southeast corner of second and Main streets and erected and operated a large general merchandise store [address may be in error as there was a hotel at southeast corner]. He also erected a large warehouse on the southwest corner of Second and Columbia streets. This warehouse is still standing and in use. He also built a wharf along the south line of Second street from a point about one hundred feet west of Main street to the channel. During period of extreme high tides most of this real estate was under water, but has now all been filled in from Main street to the channel.
Standing now at the old warehouse on the corner of Second and Columbia streets it does not seem possible that in the sixties deep water ships used to take on and discharge cargo at this point.
Most of the water for drinking purposes was obtained by those living down town from a spring that gushed from the lot now occupied by the Chambers building at the northeast corner of Capitol Way and Fourth street. A platform about thirty feet square was built over the spring, a small hand pump installed and every morning a long line of the down town citizens lined up with buckets to carry home the family’s daily quota of drinking water. Sometimes in the winter when a cold spell came along the pump would freeze up and it would be necessary for the waiting crowd to adjourn to adjacent thirst emporiums and partake of beverages which never froze, until sufficient hot water had been obtained to thaw out the town pump.
The united commerce of the town was confined to Main Street below Third, there the Lighnters, the Bettmans, the Rosenthals, the Mcleays and other pioneer businessmen carried on their various businesses. This section is now given over to shops and mills as the tendency to improvement was southward.
There is no spot in Washington so rich in pioneer history as that tract bounded by Third and Second, and Columbia and Washington streets. Here stood the old Gallagher Galliher hotel where Governor Stevens was a guest on his arrival in the new territory and here the first gubernatorial reception was held. Here on a spot marked by a bronze table, the first territorial legislature met in the second story of a frail frame building, the ground floor of which was occupied by a general store. Here also the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons met and organized for the jurisdiction of Washington. Here the engineers who, under direction of Governor Stevens, had headquarters and prepared their reports for the first transcontinental railroad. On the corner of Third street – now State street – stood the old Pacific hotel where was entertained the first president to visit the territory – Rutherford B. Hayes- also General Sherman, Scuyler Colfax, the speaker of the national House of Representatives, and many other notables.
Opposite the Pacific Hotel stood the livery stable where the Overland stage route terminated in the days when the stage made tri-weekly trips from Olympia to Cowlitz landing. Here was met the steamer that plied from the landing to Portland.
With the exception of the old Washington Standard office, where for a half a century John Miller Murphy “Hew hew to the line and let the chips fall where they would may,” not a vestige of the old landmarks remains. This Bldg is gone now. The city hall occupies the space where the old mud covered stage coaches drawn by exhausted horses, ended their tortuous trip across the country on roads, though dignified by that name, were little better than blazed trails through dense forests and over barren prairies.
When the Northern Pacific railroad was built and left Olympia a good fifteen miles away a connecting link was necessary. Of the narrow gauge road that was then built by the citizens, not a vestige remains. The result of the feeble efforts of the early settlers a given way to motor propelled vehicles which would have been a Jules Verne dream in the days the Port Townsend Southern was built.
The old Masonic hall at Eighth and Capitol Way, that was the architectural pride of the pioneers, must of necessity give way to a more pretentious building. But the older masons, who were present when it was resolved to raze the old building, emphatically refused to consent to what they considered to be a desecration, until the revolutionists consented to a plan to include within the new structure a replica of the old lodge room with its ancient furnishings, and the floor upon which had trod the patriarchs of Washington Masonry – even the old door still swings and upon its panels are emblazoned the high lights of local Masonic history.
Not until Washington had attained the governmental grandeur of statehood did the old two-story frame building give way to present architectural splendor. This old structure survived through territorial days, hid from the town by tall timber and undergrowth, reached by the early lawmakers over unsubstantial wooden sidewalks and a trail. Here, too, was old Capitol Lake where in severe winters skaters found amusement. The Territorial Capitol was where the Insurance Building is now. The lake was on the site of the Legislative Building.
But the old Capitol building which survived to be the scene of the inauguration of the first two governors of the newly organized state as well as the lake are both gone and are now but treasured memories of the few that survive to recall the days of long ago.
On the north side of the Capitol grounds and facing North stood the first executive mansion. This was built by Governor Stevens and occupied as his residence while in Olympia. On January 1854 Governor and Mrs. Stevens extended invitations for a reception to the citizens of Olympia and vicinity, the members of the Legislature and to the officers of the US.S. Massachusetts then in the harbor. The house was practically isolated from the little town and hidden by woods and thick second growth timber. As an aid and guide to the guests who were to attend lanterns were hung from limbs of trees along the route from the mansion to the waterfront. It was but a few years ago that the building was destroyed despite the efforts of sentimental citizens to preserve it. However, a marker was placed on the site bearing the legend that here stood the residence of the first territorial governor as well as the first state governor, for at one time Governor Ferry lived in the historic house.
Facing North and opposite the Catholic church still stands stood the old Tilton home. Major James Tilton built it as a residence. He was the first territorial surveyor-general from 1853 to 1860. In a way it has been an official residence for it was the home of Henry G. Struve who was secretary of the territory from 1873 to 1879 and later occupied by William McMicken who was surveyor-general from 1873 to 1886.
Even the most optimistic of the founders of our state could not have envisaged the grandeur of Capitol Hill today. Nor could they have realized that the day would ever come when Washington would reach a financial position that would tolerate the purchase and maintenance of one official car for one year for the same amount that was paid for the whole territorial government for a like period. This is but by way of comparison. These days of reckless extravagance and lavish expenditure of the public funds are a far cry from the thrift and enforced economy of the Empire builders.
The first American school-house north of the Columbia River, situated on what is now the northwest corner of Sixth Legion Way and Franklin streets, was but a frail structure and succumbed to the first winter snow and had to be replaced by a more substantial one in 1853 which still exists. This building was finally used as a court-house, The Olympian newspaper office, was finally moved to a location below Third on State and Franklin street where it is now converted into a very cheap an apartment house – possibly worse and still stands as one of the very few remaining relics of early days. However, in this rude structure the pioneer youth received the rudiments of the education which was later to enable them to meet the exigencies and overcome the difficulties of the frontier life and to give them the wisdom and foresight to lay the foundation of this vast empire. These young people did not have the advantage of a four-year course in athletics and social enjoyment as of today.
The first Protestant Presbyterian church was organized in a cooper shop near 5th and Columbia, on the north side of 5th. This was soon succeeded by a regular church edifice which, although originally built by the Presbyterians, has been used by various denominations, although the building has been removed from the southeast corner of Washington and Seventh Franklin and Legion Way to a less conspicuous location on Fifth and Adams, southwest corner. Today, perhaps these ancient walls echo a slightly different doctrine than that originally taught within their confines. But they are all seeking a common destination and there are no sects in heaven.
The very attractive city park in the city center, was the gift from the founder of the town, Edmund Sylvester. This park remained for many years as bare as a nudist’s clothesline. It was known as the Public Square to the pioneers and their children, this name being singularly appropriate owing to the unembellished condition of the little park. It was the playground of the young of the little city. The only distinguishing feature was the old block-house on the site of the monument which marks the end of the old Oregon trial. This block-house served as a place of confinement for city and county offenders indiscriminately, and early gave way to the march of development. It was not a safe place of confinement and added nothing by way of ornament to the little park.
Very few of the residences that domiciled the pioneers remain as mute evidence of the primitive homes of early days. No hot and cold water running in the house to lighten the housekeeper’s work There were no furnaces in basements, the pioneer family in general kept warm by clustering around the home built, fireplaces that in many cases filled one end of the log living room.
There is one house still standing whose good condition testifies to the honest workmanship and material which was the order in those early days. This was known as the Sylvester house which from its commanding location was in striking contrast to the more modest homes on lower levels. When Edmund Sylvester occupied the house it was surrounded by a full block of land. The proprietor could well be profligate with land for he owned the townsite, and as the town’ founder and benefactor he could be pardoned a personal pride in a residence a bit more pretentious than his neighbors’. Time that gives opportunity to the romancer, when few are left to know the facts, has given rise to a ridiculous story that the tower on the old house was intended to give the occupants a point of vantage and to detect the approach of hostile Indians. No one more than Edmund Sylvester himself, would have found greater amusement in such a fable.
Standing between the Presbyterian Community House (Sunset Life Building) and the Y.M.C.A. building stands a residence that once occupied the present site of Mottman’s store, where it was the home of Charles E. Williams, a pioneer merchant and whose store adjoined the residence.
Attracting unusual attention are two wheels in Priest Point Park, that on account of their unusual size, being ten feet in diameter. They are a relic of pioneer logging methods. A log was loaded on these wheels, so nicely balanced, when on the road to the log dump that the rear end barely touched the ground. One day, when on the way through the main and only thoroughfare in Tumwater, drawn by six horses, the leaders took fright and commenced to run, followed in their flight by the two rear team. The great log commenced to gee and haw in a most alarming manner. The result was the complete demolition of everything in Tumwater along the line of flight.
During that period in the Territory’s history, when the people lived in constant dread of the Indians, a man-of-war was sent to the Sound as a means of protection. The commanding officer unloaded a gun mounted on a carriage and left it for use in an emergency. This gun was mounted on the stockade on Fourth street and later was taken to the waterfront and thenceforth the gun was fired only on special occasions as on the Fourth of July or on political rallies. The people of Olympia, while there were a few southern sympathizers, were loyal. When news of the fall of Richmond reached the town there was wild excitement. James Pray, a saloon keeper, who had figured with the San Francisco vigilantes, and Benjamin Cleal an old sailor, resurrected the ancient gun and placing it at the foot of Main street commenced to fire. The charges were so heavy that the gun commenced to recoil at least twenty feet, but was not returned to its original position. Thus up Main street the old gun made its triumphal progress, shattering window as the neighboring woods resounded with its echoes. When Pray’s saloon was reached the gunners ceased firing for refreshments. This refreshment only served to increase patriotic fervor for when action was resumed little was left of the glassware in Jim Pray’s saloon. But there were no vain regrets for the people saw the end of an agonizing fratricidal war and there was plenty of glassware in San Francisco.
The most remarkable landmark established in Olympia, and one to meet with early destruction when Indian troubles no longer threatened, was the twelve foot stockade which the pioneers built along the line of Fourth street from one arm of Budd’s Inlet to the other. When there was a threatened outbreak of the hostile foe, men, women and children deserted all other occupations to help in the erection of this means of protection and defense in case of an attack. The reign of terror being over the stockade was soon dispensed with.
November 20, 1869, the town hall was dedicated with a grand ball. This hall was destroyed by fire in 1914. It was located between Washington and Franklin streets on the north side of Fourth street. There were two stories and a belfry which contained the fire alarm bell. The second story was dedicated to public entertainment and had a stage for theatricals whenever a barn storming company appeared in performances which ranged from Negro minstrels to deepest tragedy. Here Desdemona was smothered with a pillow and Othello was murdered outright. Here Cardinal Richelieu launched all the curses of Rome with all the vehemence of Edwin Booth, and what matter if the artist lacked that actor’s artistry. But the people were glad to pay the price of admission. They expected little and often got less. I, myself, have attended many a social function in this jolly old hall. When I first came to the city many years ago there was a flower show held there, and, I think, the manager must have been Mrs. J.C. Horr, for it was that lady who met me as I entered the hall in company with Mr. Blankenship’s aunt, Fannie Gilbert (Mrs. J.J. Gilbert). Mrs. Horr flattered me by introducing me to many of the notables of the then little city. Among them were the major, Mr. J.C. Horr, Ross G. O’Brien, Judge and Mrs. T.J. Anders, Judge and Mrs. R.O. Dunbar and many others. I remember the display of flowers was very beautiful and there were many set pieces. Mrs. Charles Bolton had made a large harp, the frame of which was green and the strings small pink rose buds. The next day these buds had bloomed and the piece was still beautiful. Ah, those were the days.
Old Tacoma Hall, since remodeled into a spacious lodge room by the Knights of Pythias and situated on the south west corner of Columbia and Fourth Streets, was donated to the Good Templars Lodge by a wealthy steamboat man (Captain Finch). The only condition being that the lodge would maintain a free reading room and library for the use of the public. (This was Olympia’s first library.) This condition was maintained legally if not sufficiently. In this hall on July 4, 1869, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward addressed the people when on his way to look over his recent purchase of Alaska. His face still bore the marks of the attack made upon him the night Lincoln was assassinated.
Long before the people had felt the need or thought of inaugurating the “Noble Experiment” the pioneers felt the urgent necessity of a brewery, and the first one in the Territory was built and put in operation on the northwest corner of Columbia & Fifth Streets. Here, in time, the rude forefathers of the hamlet met in convivial convention unmindful of the fact that they would not live to see the enactment of laws that would curtail their pleasure. But they were broadminded and liberal – these hardy pioneers – for, be it said, the brewery donated the use of the cooper shop where were made the beer kegs, to the church for the purpose of organizing the first church, as I have already mentioned. The First Presbyterian church of Olympia. In 1869 George Barnes built the small brick building on the east side of Main street, between Third and fourth. This building has survived the ravages of time. In it was installed one of the first banks ever organized on Puget Sound.
? Near the corner of Cherry and Fifth streets there stands stood a modest little cottage now occupied as a residence. This was as far back as 1892 [across from] the Thurston County court house and stood on the present site of the old Capitol building, facing Fifth Street Legion Way on the Southeast corner of Legion Way & Franklin. It was the sole occupant of the block which was at that time a dismal swamp, low and marshy.
On the east side of Columbia street between Third and Fourth stood the home of John Clark. On this site he erected a two story hotel building which Mr. Clark leased to George Carlton who abandoned the newspaper business to become a landlord – hence the name Carlton House. In a way of saying this was the executive mansion for some time, for it was the residence of Watson C. Squire, while he was governor of the Territory 1884 to 1889, and was a resort where foregathered the political potentates – the statesmen and near statesmen of the time. From being a very respectable hotel it went into a moral decline and in time lost its god reputation and year by year was less frequented by desirable patrons. Later the old hostelry was dominated by a class whose best was never better than the worst and finally after repeated violations of the prohibition law by the proprietors, the Federal government was obliged to put a padlock on the door, the portals of which in former years the high and mighty had passed. Now the deplorable structure stands only as a relic of former grandeur.
On the southwest corner of Fourth and Adams stood the First Methodist church. The walls of this venerable structure once rang with the “Amens” and “Praise Gods” of the Methodists of the old school Rev. De Vore and Rev. Driver held revival meetings in the old church with a frequency and fervency which is not shown in these modern days when the fear of a literal brimstone hell has been modified to a more lenient and more convenient standard upon which to rely for future welfare. The church still stands, at the north east corner of Jefferson and State Streets.
A building worthy of note, not on account of its antiquity, for it is more modern, but because it figured largely in the social and political affairs of Olympia and the young State, was the Olympia Hotel which stood on the present site of the post office and was destroyed by fire in the early days of the present century Nov. 16, 1904. The building was erected to furnish accommodation for those who of necessity must visit the capital. Olympia as the seat of government had been severely criticized on account of lack of accommodation for transients, and those agitating for removal of the capitol used this as an effective weapon. Public spirited citizens set about to meet this objection by the erection of a very attractive three-story wooden building. It was a heavy burden to carry by the few who felt the necessity of the hotel. When completed it was the center for all social events of importance, and during the sessions of the Legislature was the scene of several political campaigns for senatorial elections. Here lobbyists foregathered to plot for the advancement of legislation in the interests of the corporations, for the people at large had small representation for the furtherance of measures in their own interests. The walls of the old hotel were insensate witnesses to many plots and intrigues of doubtful merit and much of moral depravity among those who figured largely in the politics of that day. The cause of the conflagration was never definitely known. It burned the night of November 16, 1904.
The old Episcopal church has disappeared. It stood on the present site of the Governor hotel. Before its complete demolition it was occupied first by a grocery store and then Charlie Storrs used it as a second hand furniture store. Just a thought comes to me here: I was walking past the furniture store one hot day, when I heard my name called. Stopping on the sidewalk till Storrs stepped up to me and said: “Mrs. Blankenship do you want a kitten?” “No, I don’t think I do,” I replied. “I should think you would want one of this litter for they are six-toed cats.” I really couldn’t see any particular advantage in this surplus toe, and still declined the friendly offer. But to proceed. One Halloween night, some unregenerate humorist, Bob Lee, son of Rev. W. Lee, the Presbyterian minister, left his mark on the store and next morning passersby were amused to read, “My house was a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
The Catholics occupied a modest little church on the site of the present picturesque brick building.
The Olympia Collegiate Institute was located on Second and Pear streets, about 1875, a property now vacant. In its time it was rather an imposing two-story building. In an academic way the title of this school was imposing, though in fact it was little more than a grammar school, but it thrived in a period of the territory’s history when the University of Washington had not reached the educational eminence it now occupies. Within the walls of this Institute several men and women, residents of the State now bordering on old age, received their education, and have lived useful lives and filled positions of trust in the State, without a university education and fraternity pin now deemed necessary to the finished product, a luxury that was denied to the rising generation of pioneer days.
Of the residences of those other days, but few remain. Mr. George A. Barnes, Olympia’s first banker built his home on the present site of the Union Pacific depot [see also site of George Barnes home/Artesian Well site]. It was a pretentious one when it was built in 1856 and the scene of many festivities. The house, now grown antiquated and out of date, was moved in rather recent years to give place to the depot and is still standing in a good state of preservation on the corner of Jefferson Cherry and Sixth streets Legion Way.
The old square house on what is now the northwest corner of Pear and Fourth streets, though renovated and remodeled, was built in the fifties and was for many years the residence of Washington’s poet laureate, Francis Henry.
Surviving until quite recently was the old Horton residence on Pear East Bay Drive and Third. Occupied for half a century by the owner, Mrs. Horton who died in the house that had been her home these many years. Upon her death at the age of 98 years, the old house was torn down to make room for the ever encroaching gas station [link to Washington State Historical Society catalog description of house]. W.H. Horton installed Olympia’s first water system.
The old Lansdale residence near Central and Fourth streets still stands as does the Bigelow house on Glass street.
On Capitol Way at Fifth where stands the Funk-Volland building was the old Elwood Evans residence. Mr. Evans was a lawyer, but gave much of his time to collection of historical data of Washington. His collection was very valuable and while Mr. Evans possessed the ability he lacked the energy for concentration and he died without working up is notes into what would have been a valuable Territorial history. Such a history was later published by Clinton A. Snowden, and is recommended for reading.
Next to the Evans residence stood the Gove residence where now stands the Smokehouse. The Gove family was identified with shipping and steamboats on Puget Sound.
On the west side of Washington street between at Ninth and Tenth, on the present site of the Mottman residence [link to article about Mottman Mansion, now demolished], there stood a brick residence the only one that was ever built in Olympia as a residence, and the first in the Territory of Washington. It was erected in 1870 and occupied by William Billings, who held the record of having been sheriff of Thurston County for twenty-five consecutive years. The brick used in the structure was home-made. This house was later the first home of Thomas M. Vance and wife when they cane to Olympia to establish residence.
Located on the northwest corner of Fifteenth street and Capitol Way, erected in 1855, still stands the old Colonel Cock residence [link to unscanned image of Cock residence, now demolished]. It has been built over in some respects, but the old frame still remains, and foundation put together with wooden pins. Its builder was grandfather to C.E. Reinhart. Colonel Cock was the first territorial treasurer and for his first year’s salary received the munificent sum of $5.
One of the original residences of the pioneer village was that of T.F. McElroy, on Washington and Eighth streets, N.E. corner. It was razed when the better residence was built on the same block on Seventh street on the S.E. corner. Mr. McElroy published the first newspaper printed in the Territory, the Columbian, which made its appearance in 1853.
Thinking back over the prominent land marks of these pioneer days, visions mentally rise of the men and women who ruled the destinies of Olympia in those days and to refresh our memories a visit was made to the silent and ever growing city of the dead south of town where rest the early empire builders; where cold stones revive memories of those who sowed the seeds that others might reap the harvest. Here in eternal rest are found the name of those hardy pioneers of the forties and fifties who laid wide and deep the foundations of a commonwealth the future of which will eclipse the fondest hopes of those who strived through hardship, privation and danger to create homes and means of existence uninspired by dreams of greater accomplishments. They builded better than they knew. In their humble beginnings they did not envisage a state that in three-quarters of a century would contain a million and a half inhabitants and to stand first in the Union in point of cultural intelligence. Our early law makers framed statutes that have so far survived and stood the test of time. These legislators performed their arduous tasks free from corrupting influences and their enactments were enforced without fear or favor. They quit their earthly activities little richer in worldly goods than when they braved the sufferings and dangers of an overland quest for homes. It is devoutly to be hoped the promised land they now inhabit has granted the reward but few received in the land of their youthful dreams.
Among those standing out most vividly are Michael T. Simmons, who led the party that made the first settlement on Puget Sound in 1845, who called a meeting of settlers to protest against British aggressions. Mr. Simmons also established the first American store in the Northwest.
James Biles, who headed the first party to cross the Cascades, overcoming incredible obstacles. He established the first tannery in the northwest. This was located at Tumwater.
D.R. Bigelow who delivered the first Fourth of July oration in the Northwest. This address gave impetus to the calling of a convention asking for separation from Oregon and the organization of Washington Territory.
T.F. McElroy who established the first newspaper in Olympia. Mr. McElroy also advocated, in this paper the organization of the new Territory.
Edmond Sylvester, who located his claim on the site upon which Olympia now stands and who donated the tracts of land for territorial and town purposes.
 Transcriber’s note: the meaning of this paragraph is obscure and muddled by strikeouts. It makes most sense if you add after the phrase “as far back as 1892” the words “across from.” With that addition, the “modest little cottage” would have originally been on the current location of the Old State Capitol Building (now Superintendent of Public Instruction building) and across from the then-Thurston County Courthouse at the southwest corner of Legion and Franklin. That building was the courthouse until 1892. The italicized question mark at the beginning of this paragraph signals the annotator’s later attempt to make sense of this paragraph.