A parkful of Washington State history
Being cooped up in the house for days on end is enough to drive anyone mad, and throwing a four-year-old in the cage can sometimes seem just plain cruel. So needless to say, I had to get my poor wife and son out of the house before we all ended up in the newspaper the next day. Despite the intermittent weather on Saturday, we decided to visit Tumwater Historical Park at the mouth of the Deschutes River. I was eager to go because I knew it was the closest I could get to the old Olympia brew house, long since abandoned but still an iconic feature of the area.
When we decided to get ready to head out of the house, it was overcast. By the time we opened the garage door to leave, it was raining. By the time we got Parker strapped in and Kelly in the passenger seat, it was hailing. And by the time we actually hit the Yelm Highway, Kelly thought the paint was going to start coming off the car. Two miles later, and the hail changed back to rain, the rain then to clouds, and the clouds broke to reveal the sunshine once again. Hey, it’s nearly spring in the Pacific Northwest…par for the course if you ask me.
Tumwater Historical Park is one of those places you’ve driven by literally thousands of times and may not even realize it’s there. You’ll find the entrance to it on the Deschutes Parkway between the entrance to US 101 north and the entrance to I-5 north. In fact, the only reason I know about it at all is because one of Parker’s friends had a birthday part there once. But ever since I’ve lived in the Olympia/Lacey/Tumwater area I’ve wanted to know what the old, red brick building at the lower falls was. When we first moved here, Kelly and one of her coworkers did some videotaping around the area to get some b-roll for the TV station. For some reason I thought it was an abandoned convent (which was totally incorrect…I mean, not even close).
After doing the research with books from the Timberland Regional Library, I discovered that it’s from 1906, when the Olympia Brewing Company, which was owned by Leopold Schmidt, constructed what is now called the “Old Brewhouse.” It is six-stories tall of red brick, elegant arches, copper roof with Tenino sandstone trim. The Old Brewhouse served as the proud centerpiece of the Schmidt family brewing operation until Prohibition. The Old Brewhouse has long been associated with the Olympia Brewery which was the Capital Community’s largest private employer for a significant part of the past century. The importance of the structure was recognized in 1978 when the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to spectacular views of the Old Brewhouse, the park also contains an immense amount of history and significance. Not only is the mouth of the Deschutes River the extreme southernmost point of Washington’s iconic Puget Sound, but it’s also the location of the first United States settlement on Puget Sound. The city was formed in 1846 by a group of pioneers led by Michael Simmons and George Bush (incidentally, Simmons is buried at the Masonic Cemetery I’ve written about here, and Bush is buried at the Union/Pioneer Cemetery I’ve written about here). These early settlers were attracted by the water-power potential from the falls, the easy access to Budd Inlet for shipping, and the open prairie land in the area for cattle grazing.
Originally named New Market, the name was changed to Tumwater borrowing from a Chinook jargon phrase tumtum chuck meaning “heartbeat water“. Despite its early settlement date, Tumwater wasn’t officially incorporated until November 12, 1875.
To round out the interest in this fascinating park are two pioneer-era houses restored to near original condition. The Crosby House dates from circa 1860 and was built by Nathaniel Crosby III. Nathaniel III had married Cordelia Jane Smith in August 1860. Miss Smith was the daughter of Jacob and Priscilla Smith who lived in the Lacey area. And here’s an interesting footnote: Nathaniel Crosby III was the ancestor of Bing Crosby, the famous entertainer who was born in Tacoma and attended Gonzaga University in Spokane.
Also on the property is the Henderson House, a two-and-a-half story home dating from the turn of the 20th century. By then Tumwater had blossomed from a tiny pioneer village into a very promising town with electric streetcars, a railroad spur and a highly successful brewery at the foot of Tumwater Falls. The house was built in 1905 for William Naumann, a brewmaster from Hamburg, Germany who worked across the river at the Olympia Brewing Company.
For the Washington State History buff, a visit to Tumwater Historical Park is surely worthwhile. To really get the full experience, contact the Crosby House and Henderson House museums in advance to schedule a tour. They’ve both been restored to near original condition, and would surely be a sight worth seeing.