Kelly was feeling under the weather one day last week, so I decided to take Parker off her hands and get him out of the house for a bit. I had wanted to make a day out of it, perhaps visiting the recreated Fort Nisqually on Point Defiance, visiting the old Fort Nisqually in DuPont (and the historic Dynamite Train), or Fort Steilacoom Park between the two. Being that the weather was turning south in a hurry – not to mention that I had our dog, Kala, with us – I opted for Fort Steilacoom Park and Western State Hospital since there’s a great dog park there.
We headed up Interstate 5 to DuPont, making a mental note that if we had time on the return trip we’d stop by their historical museum. I took the Steilacoom-DuPont Road exit so we could take the scenic route to Fort Steilacoom. If you’ve never taken it, it’s a wonderful detour that winds through the woods and past the U.S. Army facilities belonging to Camp Murray and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. There are storage areas with old HMMWVs (Highly Mobile Multi-Wheeled Vehicles, or “Hum-Vees” for short), rifle ranges and obstacle courses dotting the route, all of which are behind a length of razor-wire-adorned chain link fencing. “No Trespassing” signs are posted about every hundred feet.
As you come to the end of the road, you’re entering Steilacoom at the top of the ferry queue. Taking a right at the main road will take you through residential Steilacoom, which is just a few blocks from historic Steilacoom, and eventually spit you out on the other side of town. Another short drive through an absolutely gorgeous tunnel-like grove of trees will take you to Lakewood, smack dab between Western State Hospital (which is attached to old Fort Steilacoom) and Fort Steilacoom Park.
Parker and I took a nice, long walk through and around the dog park, followed by a serene trip through the old Western State Hospital cemetery. The old cemetery was used late int he 1800s and early 1900s. For a very long time, when a patient at what was then the Western Washington Hospital for the Insane died, he or she would be buried nearby – sometimes in mass graves – with little or no markings to designate they ever existed. Established in Washington Territory as Fort Steilacoom Asylum in 1871, predating statehood by almost 20 years, in former buildings of Fort Steilacoom, which was a U.S. Army post from 1849 to 1868. In 1875, the territorial government took control due to complaints about patient neglect, brutal abuse and poor living conditions.
The original buildings of the asylum were demolished in 1886 to make way for a larger structure. It was renamed Western Washington Hospital for the Insane and the main ward was completed in 1887. In each of the following decades numerous out-buildings were constructed. In 1915, it was renamed Western State Hospital.
I had intended to visit the old fort property and the hospital grounds across the street from the park, however the rains came. And then the hail. And then the thunder and lightening. That’s about when I decided to wrap things up. I jogged over to another historical pillar to snap two photos, then Parker and I headed back through Lakewood (past our old apartment at Seeley Lake) to head home. He was asleep before we hit the freeway.