Soundings: Maritime historian to add new chapter on Olympia’s past

jdodge@theolympian.comJune 1, 2014 

After writing three maritime history books since “retiring” from his family-owned public relations firm in 2000, Olympia resident Chuck Fowler thought his book-writing days were over.

The award-winning maritime historian, longtime organizer of Olympia’s waterfront festival Harbor Days and steadfast member of the South Sound Maritime History Association was ready to leave behind the time-consuming rigor it took to produce “Tall Ships” in 2007, “Tugboats” in 2009, and “Patrol and Rescue Books” in 2011.

Then SSMHA board president Bob Peck came calling with an idea to write a book about Olympia’s maritime history.

“I had not intended to do another book (been there, done that) but the opportunity arose to do one about my hometown and area, and the maritime history bug bit hard once again,” Fowler told me.

As with the first three books, this one will be carried by Arcadia Publishing Co. as part of the publishing house’s Images of America series. The book is set for publication in the spring of 2016.

Fowler is on the hook for a chapter about Olympia Harbor Days and the efforts to preserve tugboat history. Peck, a retired college president, former philosophy professor and master boat builder — he’s putting the finishing touches on a 15-foot mini-tug in the garage of his Tumwater condominium — will write about Olympia’s changing waterfront, tackling the 1974-2014 period. He also offers some thoughts on what the future might hold without promoting one idea (working waterfront) over another (tourist draw).

Former Thurston County Commissioner Les Eldridge, who’s working on his fifth fictional nautical book set in Civil War time, will pen a chapter on early exploration, settlement and commerce that spans 1792-1921. Olympia maritime history buff John Hough will zero in on politics and commerce in the state capital seaport from 1922 to 1973.

Peck and Fowler are still searching for a South Sound tribal member to write the first chapter in the book, titled “Native Beginnings.”

You, too, can play a role in turning the book into an engaging pictorial book with the working title “Maritime Olympia and South Puget Sound.”

“I believe that there are many stories, photos, illustrations and artifacts hidden away and perhaps forgotten in peoples’ albums, storage boxes, garages and attics,” Fowler said. “And we’d like the opportunity to know about and see these hidden historical treasures, and perhaps interview their owners.”

If the call for help uncovering Olympia’s rich maritime history rings true, contact Peck at


A pair of peregrine falcons rousted from their past two nests on Olympia’s waterfront might score some new digs on the state Capitol Dome, which is one of their favorite places to perch and eat their prey.

Officials from the state departments of Fish and Wildlife and Enterprise Services will meet June 16 to talk about the possibility of placing a nest box on the state Legislative Building.

Fish and Wildlife district wildlife biologist Michelle Tirhi is pretty enthusiastic about the chances of finding the falcons a new home on the Capitol Campus.

“We just need to make sure the needs of the building are still being met,” she said, suggesting a nest box could be located in a place that doesn’t detract from the building’s aesthetics.

Then there’s the issue of bird droppings streaking the dome.

“They’re already whitewashing the dome when they perch and feed there,” she noted. Besides, they prey on pigeons, reducing the number left to make messes on the dome.

This has been a stressful spring for the peregrine pair. First they lost a nest box, which a mating peregrine pair have used since 2004 on one of two Port of Olympia cargo cranes that port officials declared surplus property. The cranes were dismantled and shipped to Canada.

The male and female peregrines settled into a weathered and abandoned bald eagle nest in a Douglas fir snag near the Governor’s Mansion above Capitol Lake. They hatched two chicks, but then the nest failed and the chicks disappeared.

I received an email from a state Capitol Campus employee May 27 that sheds light on what happened to the nest and the chicks.

“The falcon’s nest was probably destroyed by an immature bald eagle on Tuesday, May 20, in the midafternoon,” wrote the state worker, who asked to remain anonymous. “I watched and heard the fight — others saw it as well.

“One falcon was screaming from over in the trees by the Governor’s Mansion while the other tried to drive off the enormous eagle with a lot of screaming and power ascents. It was awful — highest drama. Guess the eagle won.”

It’s highly unlikely the adult falcons, which have been seen frequently around the Capitol Campus since they lost their chicks, have enough time left this spring to produce more chicks. But state officials have the opportunity to help them prepare for a successful mating season in 2015.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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