Good old Tumwater days chronicled in book

October 24, 2010 

The City of Tumwater's Henderson House Museum is home to some 1,500 historic photos of the people, homes and businesses that tell the visual story of the Puget Sound region's oldest permanent United States settlement.

They sure came in handy when museum manager Carla Wulfsberg teamed up with South Sound author Heather Lockman to chronicle the history of Tumwater through vintage photographs compiled in a book as part of the Images of America Series from Arcadia Publishing.

Read the book and view the 200 pictures they selected for the book and three key themes come to mind.

First, Tumwater Falls, a series of three falls that plunge some 80 feet to the bottom of the Deschutes River, all in less than one-quarter of a mile, was the magnet that attracted the pioneers.

When the first party of 31 Americans traveled the Oregon Trail and arrived at the falls in October 1845, they knew they had found their new home and a place to build water-powered industries. First came a grist mill to turn wheat into flour. By the late 1870s, the array of industrial use around the falls included lumber and flour mills, a tannery, a furniture factory and a wooden pipe factory. Meanwhile, a town took shape on the west bank of the river, hard against Tumwater Hill.

The age of water power lasted only a few decades, just long enough for German immigrant and Montana brewer Leopold Schmidt to discover the artesian springs near the falls, the perfect water for making beer.

The second major theme in Tumwater’s history book comes through loud and clear in Chapter 2, telling the story of how the Olympia Brewing Co. put Tumwater on the map.

Schmidt built his first brewery in 1896, moved to a new red-brick brew house in 1906 and spent considerable energy fighting back against the temperance movement of the early 20th century.

“You cannot find anywhere proof that the moderate, regular use of mild, light beers is injurious to man,” read an Aug. 16, 1914, advertisement paid for by the Olympia Brewing Co. and urging beer-lovers to register, vote and work against Prohibition.

“On the other hand, just such a habit is approved by the majority of physicians,” the ad went on to say.

One of my favorite photos in the book shows turn-of-the-20th-century brewery workers with a pyramid of beer kegs in the background raising a glass with brew master William Naumann, who was the original owner of what is now called the Henderson House Museum.

The caption under the photo points out that the 1903-05 Brewers Union contract allowed brewery employees to drink beer four times daily during the working day, provided that no more than five minutes was spent each time at the tap.

In a sad twist of fate, Schmidt died in 1914, just six weeks before voters in this state voted to “go dry.”

But Schmidt’s descendants upheld the belief the brewery founder had that beer is a nutritional food beverage when they built the third and last Olympia Brewery next to the upper falls after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. I heard the “nutritional food beverage” phrase repeated several times during an orientation tour for new brewery workers in 1976.

During the two summers I worked in the brewery warehouse, the drinking-on-the-job policy was still in force during breaks and after work. I confess: I quaffed my fair share of beers.

We all know the brewery chapter has a sad ending. The family-owned brewery was sold in 1983, passed through three corporate ownerships in the following 20 years, then closed in 2003.

It pains me to drive past the deteriorating buildings that once hummed with activity and exhaled the sweet and sour smells of barley, hops and malts.

The third theme that springs forth from the book is the image of Tumwater as an elusive place – rich in history, but hard to find and hard to see.

That’s what happens when your community is torn apart by a freeway.

Interstate 5 was constructed through the heart of old Tumwater. Nearly 100 homes in the city’s historic district were either removed or demolished in 1955 to make way for the 6.5-mile stretch of freeway through Olympia and Tumwater that opened in 1958.

Perhaps the greatest value of the first new Tumwater history book in 15 years is to show people what the city looked like before it was sliced and diced by the freeway.

The authors will present slide shows about the book from 2-4 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Tumwater Library and from 1-4 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Schmidt House in Tumwater. The programs are free to the public, and books will be available for purchase and signing.

The books sell for $18.43, plus tax. They’re available at the Henderson House Museum, Tumwater City Hall, Tumwater Valley Golf Course, Tumwater Falls Park and various local retail stores and bookstores.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444. jdodge@theolympian.com.

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