Location: 615 Washington St SE
National Downtown Historic District, State Register, National Register, Local Register; Women’s History

sylvester parkSylvester Park 1895-1904
Photo from Digital Archives
sylvester park 2009Sylvester Park today (2009)
Photo Courtesy of Laura Killian

When Olympia founder Edmund Sylvester founded and platted the city, he was careful to include plans that would re-create the New England style townscape he’d grown up with in Maine. This included a commons in the center of town, with provisions for public buildings nearby. Sylvester donated the grounds for the Town Square, now called Sylvester Park in honor of our founder. During the so-called Indian Wars of 1855-56, the square was occupied by residents fleeing the hostilities, and a blockade was built in its northwest corner.

Sylvester Park was originally an unadorned commons, as shown in the Bird’s Eye view linked below. In 1902, when the state acquired the Old State Capitol Building from Thurston County, it also purchased the park from the city. The title specifies that the property is to be kept as a common, or park.

At the time the Thurston County  Courthouse (Old State Capitol Building) was constructed, the commons were enhanced to create a more parklike environment. These included eventually a gazebo, reflecting pond, clamshell-surfaced walking paths, and trees. The park became, and still is, a gathering place for visiting politicians, parades, and protests. Its landscape continues to evolve to reflect its uses and current tastes.

Two monuments in the park bear witness to the importance of women in Olympia’s history. The Daughters of the American Revolution, Sacajawea Chapter, placed a marker commemorating the end of the Oregon Trail. Nearby, a drinking fountain at the corner of the park was placed in honor of Emma Page, a champion of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and friend of animals.

For further information and links, see the following:

Olympia Heritage inventory

Olympia Downtown Historic District

Olympia Downtown Walking Tour

Digital Archives photographs: SP1, SP2, SP3, SP4 (showing pond)

Photograph around 1950 from Susan Parish Collection (search for Sylvester Park)

Washington State Historical Society Photos (enter the following catalog numbers in Collections Search box):  C1951.284.11, C1975.22.1, C1950.1.5 (Roosevelt’s visit),  C1945.1.2 (Spanish-American soldiers’ burial day), C1952.284.13; C2014.0.14 (Ezra Meeker at laying of Sacajawea monument)

Bird’s Eye View of Olympia 1979 (see location #1 on map)

Olympia in 1884 map overlay

Looking Back feature, Teddy Roosevelt addressing crowd at park

Copyright © 2022 Deborah Ross