9 Interesting Pieces of History About Thurston County

by Coldwell Banker Evergreen Olympic Realty, Inc. on March 2, 2018

olympia Mark A Joseph/Shutterstock

At the southern end of Puget Sound, in Western Washington, is Thurston County. It is the eighth smallest county in the state, but also the eighth most populous. The cities that make up the county include Olympia, Lacey, Rainier, Tenino, Tumwater, and Yelm. There’s also the town of Bucoda and a dozen unincorporated communities. All of these places have a long past and boast great stories. Here are nine interesting pieces of history about Thurston County.

1. The First Thurston County Fair

At the first fair that took place in 1871, the only animal represented was poultry. There was a cage full of canaries and linnets,  a chicken, two turkeys, two geese, and one Australian Cockatoo that belonged to a sea captain, Captain Percival, who also entered a bucket of cranberries into a competition. Another exhibit was a long blackberries branch. Years later categories went on to include the best oatmeal with milk and best section of wooden water pipe.

2. The Agriculture


In the early years of Thurston County, small farms started producing chickens, wheat, milk, and cheese. That was the beginning of agriculture in the area. Most farmers were solely dairy farming by the end of the nineteenth century, due to the poor quality of soil and the booming lumber industry. A lot of farmers turned to working in the lumber industry part-time.

3. The Earthquake  

thurston county Christopher Boswell/Shutterstock

On April 13, 1949, an earthquake hit the Northwest, the center being the Northeastern part of Thurston County. The shock was initially felt in the area between Olympia and Tacoma but traveled across the state and through to parts of British Columbia, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. It had a magnitude of 7.1, the worst recorded earthquake in the region since the 1840s.  

4. The Industries and The Economy

Kirill Livshitiskiy/Shutterstock

In the first century of Thurston County, state government came second to timber when it came to the economy of the area. In the 19th century, lumber and mining coal and sandstone were the biggest industry sources in the county. That continued into the 1920s. Leopold Schmidt opened a brewery in 1896 in Tumwater, it was a significant industry in the area until it closed in 2003.

5. The Ghost Town of Tono

hospital tono Photo via Thurstontalk.com

What was once a company-owned mining town, found in 1907, is now a ghost town called Tono. About 20 miles south of Olympia, all that remains of the place is a few overgrown foundations. But in the 1920s, it had over 1,000 residents, 125 homes, a hospital, a general store, and a school. In the 1980s, mining operations destroyed most of the former town.

6. The Olympia Farmers Market

olympia farmers market Photo via plympiafarmersmarket.com

The first farmers market occurred in downtown Olympia 170 years ago, in 1847. Back then it was not called The Olympia Farmers Market, but it was an informal Indian gathering and trading spot. This was long before the white settlers in the area began trading, and years later we would have the popular market we have come to know today.

7. The Great Gale of 1880

the great gale Photo via wunderground.com

The first well-documented storm to hit the Pacific Northwest was the Great Gale in January of 1880. A typhoon that started in the Pacific Ocean made its way to the Pacific Northwest Coast. Newspaper accounts tracked the process, and deemed the typhoon “Stormking”. The impact was fierce, half of the forest trees were leveled by the storm, and snowfall was from two to three feet deep.

8. The Native Americans

nisqually indian tribe Photo via salmondefense.org

In 1792 the first documented white settlers passed through southern Puget Sound, but there is archaeological evidence that a human presence was recorded 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. The Nisqually and Squaxin tribes established themselves in the area, building settlements at the falls. They called these settlements “Tum-wat-ta” meaning “strong water”. In the winters they moved their settlements on a peninsula called “Cheet-Woot”, now called Olympia.

9. The Capital Battle

Capitol of olympia Nadia Borisevich/Shutterstock

The 1855 Legislature voted on the location of the state government, it was between Vancouver and Olympia. Arthur Denny gave an impassioned speech to the Legislature explaining the virtues of Olympia, and Olympia won. But the capital battle continued for years. Finally, in 1954 the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the headquarters of all state agencies would be in Olympia yet again.











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