Olympia Collegiate Institute site

Location: 802 Olympia Ave.
Schools, Women’s History

ociOlympia Collegiate Institute about 1885, photograph from Digital Archives former ocisite today (2012)  Photograph courtesy of Deb Ross

The Puget Sound Wesleyan Institute was founded by Daniel Bigelow and other local Methodists in the 1850s, and for a short time was located at 200 Union Avenue, the current site of the Mowell House (the building still exists, having been moved to Adams and Union). The Institute soon dissolved, faced with insuperable financial difficulties at the onset of the Civil War.

In 1869, another Methodist-supported institution, the Olympia Union Academy, was founded. The building shown here housed the Academy and was probably erected in the early 1870s.  In 1883, the Olympia Collegiate Institute was founded and occupied the building. That institution merged with other similarly situated schools in 1894 to form the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. About that time, J.R. Chaplin, a congregational minister/cum real estate speculator, conceived the idea of a People’s University to be located near Butler’s Cove in West Olympia. For a few years, while he pursued that dream, he located his nascent university in this building. As the dream of a new university never came to full fruition, the institution closed its doors in the early 20th century, the last occupant of the building.

A look at the 1879 Bird’s Eye view map linked below shows that, while the schoolhouse wasn’t too far from the Bigelows’ house, it was a muddy and long trek from downtown Olympia, requiring crossing the rickety Eastside bridge to Swantown, and along a muddy path (Plum Street, now Eastside). As the school housed boarders (and eventually had a separate dormitory building), the distance from town was not an impediment and in fact may have been viewed as an asset.

Links to other resources:

Digital Archives photos (including the above): OCI1, OCI2

Washington State Historical Society (sThe WSHS catalogue has nearly 200 photographs of OCI and its students, the following is a sampling. A large volume consisting of photographs of OCI alumni is included in this collection. Many of Olympia’s later prominent citizens are included in the collection and their photographs are linked in the Residents section of this website. enter catalog numbers in Collections Search box): C1946.241.3; C1946.241.1; C1950.1117.1.23.1;  C1950.1117.1

City of Olympia Women’s Walking Tour

Bird’s Eye View of Olympia in 1879 (reference #2 on map on east side of slough)

For more on J.R. Chaplin, see Chaplin House and the Residents section of this website.






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