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.
Some time around statehood in 1889, a coast redwood tree was planted here. By the state’s centennial, in 1989, it was fully mature, and was dedicated the Daniel J. Evans Centennial Tree in honor of former governor Daniel J. Evans, to recognize his efforts on behalf of environmental protection. In the photograph at above right, the tree can be seen in the background. The small park here is also named Centennial park. Remnants of the O’Brien home, the other house on the property, and the wall surrounding the lot 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.