Location: 201 Union Ave SE
O’Brien home in the background, 1949, Thurston County Assessor, Southwest Regional Archives
Centennial Park today (2014), photo by Deb Ross
Rossell O’Brien, an Irish immigrant, fought in the Civil War, and arrived in Olympia in 1870, appointed as revenue collector under Governor Salomon. He married Fanny Steele, daughter of Alden Hatch Steele, and the couple built a home at this site kitty corner to the Steele House. In 1890, O’Brien reportedly initiated the custom of standing for the Star Spangled Banner. The custom caught on and is now practiced everywhere. The 1940 photograph of the house at this site shows it to be a large and elegant 2 1/2 story structure. According to historian Bernice Sapp, it was still still standing in 1950, along with a smaller house on the property. Helen Aetzel, O’Brien’s daughter, and then Helen’s daughter, Virginia Aetzel Schmidt, inherited the house, so that it was owned by the same family for three generations. A fourth generation child, Nick Schmidt, was born in the home, according to a memoir by “Bink” Schmidt.
In 1909, a coast redwood sapling was brought to this site from California and planted in the back yard of the Faulkner family, who lived at 207 Union Street, next door to the O’Brien home. In 1989, by the state’s centennial, it was fully mature, and was dedicated the Daniel J. Evans Tree in honor of former governor Daniel J. Evans, to recognize his efforts on behalf of environmental protection. The small park here is named Centennial Park. The Daniel Evans tree and remnants of the O’Brien home can be seen at the site.
Washington State Historical Society, photograph of O’Brien/Aetzel House, enter the following catalog number in collection search box C19188.8.131.52.4
For more information on Rossell O’Brien, see the Residents section of this website.
Thank you to the Faulkner family descendants for information about the tree’s origins.
Copyright © 2022 Deborah Ross