Location: 1110 Capitol Way S
Local, state and national registers; Wohleb;  Diversity: Native American rights; Transportation

milroy houseMilroy House, 1872, State Library Collection, Digital Archives old courthouseOld Thurston County Courthouse-Capitol Way today (2012), photo by Matt Kennelly

The building known as the Old Thurston County Courthouse, at the corner of 11th and Capitol Way, was the third purpose-built home for Thurston County government, after the Old State Capitol Building and the courthouse on Fourth Avenue, which is now razed (additional locations for Thurston County government included the schoolhouse at Legion and Franklin, and the Central School building and are now at the Thurston County Courthouse complex). This building was erected in 1930, designed by local architect Joseph Wohleb in an art deco style, which was a departure from the signature Mission style used in many of his downtown buildings. The building is important not only for its architectural  interest but as the home of several important events and trials as it was the jurisdiction of record for cases in which the State was a plaintiff or defendant. The building passed into the hands of the state after the current courthouse in West Olympia was built; it is now in private ownership.

The courthouse was built on the site of the General Milroy home, which was one of the finest homes in the city in the late nineteenth century. Along with its neighboring mansions, such as the McElroy House, the Bettman-Oppenheimer house, the Isaac Harris house, and the Sylvester Mansion, the Milroy home was part of the elegant tone that reigned in the Capital Way area south of Sylvester Park to the site of the Territorial Capitol. General Robert Milroy was an important figure in the Civil War and was later appointed agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs after the war. He served here for ten years and raised his family, several of whom also became prominent Olympia and territorial citizens.

This location is associated with Native American rights in two respects: first, General Milroy was a supporter of Indian rights, and was active in securing Yakama chief Kamiakin’s claim to his lands against inroads by white settlers. Second, the courthouse was the home of important fishing rights trials of the 1960s.

At the northwest corner of the property, just visible in the above-right photograph, is the only remaining support for the electricity serving Olympia’s trolley system on Capitol Way. It has been designated as an important historical structure in Olympia.

Additional resources:

Olympia Heritage inventory

Digital Archives photo (shown above)

Washington State Historical Society, unscanned image (enter catalog number in Collections Search box), C1972.37.18 

Looking back feature, Dick Gregory trial

Story map, Thurston County courthouses

For more information about the Milroy family, see the Residents section of this website.

Copyright © 2022 Deborah Ross