Location: 108 State Ave NW
Local Register, State Register, National Historic Downtown District, Women’s History, Transportation

old city hall thenOld City Hall/Fire Station about 1917, Image courtesy of Washington State Historical Society old city hallOld City Hall today (2012), Photo by Matthew Kennelly

The Old City Hall and Fire Station was the seat of government and the fire station for over fifty years. It was built in 1912 to replace the deteriorating Columbia Hall on 4th Avenue. For a time, between the 1880s and 1910s, the area north of State Avenue was known as the Dead Zone, or tenderloin district. Here activities, such as gambling and prostitution, that were banned elsewhere in town, were permitted. The area was also the home of industrial facilities and commercial businesses such as laundries and bars that supported the marine trade in the area. After the Carlyon Fill added many blocks of buildable property north of State Avenue, this area was gradually transformed into an industrial area. 

The location is important to women’s history in Olympia for at least three reasons: the first woman city mayor of a capital city, Amanda Smith, presided from here; and the first woman firefighter in Olympia, Barbara Greene, began her service here. The location was likely also a house of prostitution, based on its designation as a “female boarding house” (initials F.B.) in early maps (see Sanborn overlays for maps).

According to historian Bernice Sapp, the first non-Indigenous American occupation of this site was Moses Rice Tilley’s Overland Stage stable. The Tilley family operated not only this first stagecoach line, but Moses Tilley’s father, Abram, operated a popular inn on the Oregon Trail route from Monticello (Longview) to Olympia. (As an aside, Moses Rice Tilley’s daughter Maybelle was an internationally recognized beauty who eventually became Countess Stavra)

Further information:

Washington State Historical Society photographs (enter the following catalog numbers in Collections Search box): C1982.18.29.16 (above picture); C1949.1301.31.10

Olympia Heritage inventory

National Historic Downtown District

Olympia Women’s History Walking Tour

Now Where Were We? short video on the Red Light District.

For more information on the Tilley family, see the Residents section of this website.

Copyright © 2022 Deborah Ross