However, this group of volunteers dedicated to preserving the history of the capital city could have a bright future, thanks to a benefactor who died in July following a brief illness.
The death of Roger Easton, one of South Sound’s most accomplished and energetic historians, left a huge void in the local historical community.
But Easton is still making a major mark on preserving local history. The 73-year-old retired schoolteacher and lifelong bachelor donated a healthy chunk of his considerable estate to the Historical Society. Easton’s generosity will enable the group to purchase a permanent home for its written and photographic records. They’re currently stored at the Washington State History Research Center in Tacoma because the former repository, the state Capitol Museum in Olympia, lacked the archival safeguard to store historical records there.
Isn’t about time to bring Olympia’s history back home to Olympia?
The exact dollar amount headed to the Olympia Historical Society is not yet known, but it could reach into the high six figures, Historical Society President Mark Foutch said. Easton’s will also earmarks money for maintenance of the Bigelow House — the oldest dwelling in Olympia and home to Olympia pioneer lawyer and Washington Territory legislator Daniel Bigelow. True to his career as an educator, Easton also left money to support a college scholarship fund for history students.
“We’re a tiny historical society that’s struggled to stay afloat,” Foutch, a former Olympia mayor, said the other afternoon as I gathered with him and historical society Vice President Tim Ransom in the parlor of Foutch’s 1887 vintage home on Boundary Street. “Now we have a huge new opportunity and huge new challenge, thanks to Roger Easton.”
Easton also left behind what amounts to about 48 boxes of historical records and photographs, a collection he bequested to fellow South Sound historian Ed Echtle. In turn, Echtle has donated the materials to the Olympia Historical Society and placed them at the state archives in Olympia for safekeeping until the society secures its new home.
Just where the Historical Society will land is anybody’s guess. The search will begin in earnest once Easton’s estate is settled, and the society has its proceeds in hand.
One of the Historical Society’s preferred visions is to have a dedicated archival space at a new Timberland Regional Library in Olympia. Officials from the regional library system have been having exploratory meetings to get ideas from the public on what a new Olympia library might offer, Foutch said .
Voters in 1997 twice rejected a bond issue for a new Olympia library. It could be years before the dream of a new library is fulfilled. But if that day comes, it will be a fitting tribute to have the Historical Society’s material housed there in the Roger Easton Room.
Meanwhile, the Historical Society is trying to grow stronger through numbers. That includes both a pending membership drive and exploring new partnerships or mergers with other Olympia-based historic groups, including the Olympia-based South Sound Maritime Heritage Association and the Bigelow House Preservation Association.
At 1 p.m. Jan. 26, the Historical Society will conduct its annual business meeting at the Capitol Coach House at the state Capitol Museum, 211 W. 21st St., Olympia. The public is welcome to attend and, better yet, join the Historical Society before or after the meeting.
At 2 p.m. Saturday at the Coach House, the public also is invited to attend a panel discussion called “On the Home Front: Olympia During World War II.” Featured speakers include Bill Jacobs, Olympia High School graduate, class of 1946; retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, offering his grade school memories of life in Olympia during the war; and Tumwater history buff Jim Brown talking about wartime at the Olympia Airport.
The Historical Society, in partnership with the Olympia Heritage Commission, also has a window display inside the New Caledonia building, 116 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia.
Called “The History of Olympia in Postcards,” it features blowups of 12 historical postcards depicting Olympia street scenes dating from roughly 1901-49.
Stop by and reconcile downtown Olympia’s historical footprint with today’s. By the way, that was something Roger Easton loved to do.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444