Olympia, the Capital of the State of Washington
By Allen Weir
The Washington Historian, 2:3 (April, 1901), 107-111.
Some one has said that “God made the country and man made the city.” This is, at least, an exaggerated statement, and needs to be qualified. No city could be built, or could flourish, unless it have the foundation of natural advantages. A philosopher, when asked when the training of a child should begin, promptly responded: “A hundred years before its birth.” He doubtless referred to prenatal influence as a foundation for human character. Given proper natural advantages, supplemental to man’s design, energy and intelligent effort, and a city springs into being and continues its growth and prestige through ages. In the distribution of the world’s population and commercial activities among civilized nations, natural conditions favorable to the formation of centers of population and wealth attract and control. The continent of North America, settled late in the world’s march upward from savagery, contains more and better natural elements as a basis for a highly developed civilization than does any other part of the world. Of this continent, Puget Sound, the latest in settlement and development, is the garden spot from an agricultural and horticultural standpoint, and is so situated with reference to the meeting and exchange of inland and ocean commerce, that upon its shore must ultimately be the foremost commercial city of the Pacific coast.
Puget Sound, with its 1,200 miles of inland shore line, indented with bays, harbors, and surrounded and backed by such a vast wealth of soil, timber, coal., fish and mineral, with a mild and equable climate, necessarily furnishes room and suitable location for towns and cities.
Olympia, situated at the headwaters of this splendid. inland sea, flanked by her outlying resources, offers advantages for inspection and consideration of the world at large without an apology or reservation. Ever since August, 1845, when Col. M. T. Simmons and his small party first arrived at the head of Budd’s inlet, it has been recognized as a natural point for a future city. Ever since 1846, when Col. Simmons erected at Tumwater Falls the first gristmill north of the Columbia River, this great water power has been looked upon as furnishing the natural conditions for a manufacturing center. In 1847, Edmund Sylvester built the first dwelling house in Olympia, and in the same year the Simmons party erected the first saw mill on Puget Sound, at the falls of the Deschutes River. In June, 1848, Rev Father Ricard established the Roman Catholic Mission of St. Joseph on Budd’s Inlet, one and one-half miles below Olympia. These beginnings, each in its line, demonstrated that the argonaut who saw with prophetic eye in Puget Sound and its future possibilities the golden fleece of commerce, and who selected the head of the Sound as the natural and choicest for a city, knew what they were about.
When, in 1852, a convention was called to meet in Monticello, made up of delegates from all portions of Oregon north of the Columbia River, for the purpose of petitioning Congress for a separate Territorial government, Olympia was naturally selected as the Proper location for the capital of the new territory. The capital it remained through territorial existence and when, in l889, the constitution for the State of Washington was submitted to the voters of the commonwealth for their ratification, and the selection of a permanent seat of government was likewise left to popular vote, it was demonstrated that no mistake had been made by the founders of the territory in selecting Olympia. At the succeeding election the location of the capital at Olympia was confirmed for all time to come by an overwhelming vote in its favor against all competitors.
Olympia is a modern, up to date town, having a population of about 6,000, with miles of graded, planked or macadamized streets, with an excellent sewer system and first-class sanitary arrangements; wide sidewalks, a well-equipped and efficient electric light and street car system; water works supplied from a pure mountain stream; the best of telegraph and telephone systems and service; attractive homes; a fine, graded public school system; good society, and many other advantages such as intelligent and desirable newcomers inquire about and appreciate.
Olympia has two banks, and an aggregate of cash deposits amounting to upwards of a million dollars, divided among a large number of depositors, indicating a healthy financial condition. The conservative and safe character of her business community is shown by the fact that business failures are here unknown.
Last winter the state Legislature passed an act under which the state became the purchaser of the Thurston County court house and a block of land in the heart of the city for capitol purposes. Sylvester Park, a full block of land adjoining, has since been donated by the city, to become a part of the capitol grounds. The building is a handsome, substantial structure, with stone exterior and ornamental trimmings, and cost, together with the additions now in process of construction, $360,000. Sylvester Park, named for the original townsite proprietor, adds much to the beauty of the surroundings.
Olympia is a historic spot. Within its borders, almost half a century ago, in a building still standing, was enacted the first law ever enacted on American soil north of the Columbia River. Funds have recently been raised to preserve the old building from destruction. Here was issued the first proclamation by Governor Isaac I Stevens, first territorial governor. Here the wheels of organized government in the territory were first set in motion. Here was held the first Fourth of July celebration on American soil north of Oregon, Hon. D. E. Bigelow, who was the orator, of the day at that celebration, July 4, 1852, still lives in his elegant Olympia home, ripe in years and surround by a large family. Judge Bigelow was also a member of that first Legislature, and is almost its sole survivor. On Capitol Hill, on a ten-acre site donated by Edmund Sylvester, stands a historic building, being the old capitol erected at the expense of the general government in 1855. Within its walls the various legislative sessions, territorial and state, since the first two, have assembled. In 1889 an extension was added to this building to accommodate the constitutional convention. The next legislative session will be held in the new state house. The first session was held in a building then owned by Parker & Colter, merchants. The second session was held in the Masonic Hall building, still standing in its modest dignity near the center of the city. Of the firm of Parker & Colter, who, by the way, had here the first express office north of Portland, Ore., within the United States, Capt. John G. Parker still survives. His home is in Olympia, fronting the shore of the bay on the east side, just south of the location of the old Catholic Mission.
Olympia is also the home of the oldest weekly newspaper in the state, the “Washington Standard,” still owned and published by its founder, Hon. John Miller Murphy.
Tumwater, just South of Olympia, and in fact, a suburb, is the spot where Col. M. T. Simmons, in 1845, made settlement. The old saw mill building which he erected there during the “forties” is standing. Here the waters of the Deschutes River, tumbling through a rocky gorge, furnish the power for Olympia’s electric light and street car systems, as well as for pumping her water supply, besides enough surplus for a large grist mill.
Of the constitutional convention that assembled in Olympia July,4, 1889, the following were members: John P. Hoyt, President; J. J. Brown, N. G. Blalock, John F. Gowey (since deceased), Frank M. Dallam, James Z. Moore, E. H. Sullivan, George Turner, Austin Mires, M. M. Godman, Gwin Hicks, William F. Prosser, Louis Sohns (now deceased), A. A. Lindsley, J. J. Weisenburger (deceased), P. C. Sullivan, R. S, More, Thos. T. Minor (deceased), J. J. Travis, A. J, West, C. T. Fay, C. P. Coly, R. T. Sturdevant, J. A. Shoudy (deceased), Allen Weir, W. B. Gray, J. P. Dyer, George H. Jones, B. L. Sharpstein, H. M. Lillis, J. F. Van Name, A. Schooley, H. C. Willison, T. M Reed, S. H. Manley, R. Jeffs, Francis Henry (deceased), George Comegys, O. H. Joy (deceased), D. E. Durie, D. Buchanan, J. R. Kinnear, G. W. Tibbetts, H. W. Fairweather, T. C. Griffiths, C. H. Warner, J. P. T. McCrosky, S. G. Cosgrove, Thos. Hayton, S. H. Berry, D. J. Crowley, J. T. McDonald, John M. Reed, Edward Eldridge (deceased), Geo. H. Stevenson, S. A. Dickey, Henry Winsor, Theo. L. Stiles, James A. Burk (deceased), John McReavy, R. O. Dunbar, M. Morgans, James Power, B. B. Glascock, O. A. Bowen, H. Clothier, M. J. McElroy, J. T. Eshelman, R. Jamison, H. E. Allen (deceased), H. F. Suksdorf, Jas. Hungate, L. Neace, J. C. Kellogg, W. L. Newton. These persons framed and adopted the fundamental law of the state.
Olympia is a city of beautiful homes and good society. As the residence of state officers, the judges of the supreme court, and of the federal and county officers, the city is a gathering point for a most desirable class of people. Among it’s future claims to distinction will be its advantages and attractions as a summer resort.