At 5,000 square feet, the Schmidt House in Tumwater has three stories, a basement and a caretaker who knows every square inch of the house.
The home, built in 1904 by Olympia Brewing Co. founder Leopold F. Schmidt, has been like a second home to Bob Crim, the kindly steward of the former Schmidt family estate for some 54 years.
The Lewis County native started working as a housekeeper and groundskeeper at the Schmidt House across the street from the Olympia Brewery in 1956 at age 17. At that time, the home was occupied by Peter G. Schmidt – Leopold’s oldest son – and his wife, Clara.
After Peter died in 1957, Crim took on the additional role of chauffeur, driving Clara to town in a pink Buick that Olympia police would often find parked downtown in “no parking” zones. In an era when the Olympia Brewery and the Schmidt family held sway over the community, the parking infractions were often overlooked.
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Crim stayed on at the Schmidt House after Clara died in 1960 and the property was purchased by the Olympia Brewing Co.
“Skip Schmidt (former brewery executive and Tumwater mayor) lived here for eight years – I used to babysit his four kids,” Crim said.
Crim stayed on after 1983 when Pabst Brewing Co. purchased the brewery and donated the house and family archives to the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, Crim’s current employer and the nonprofit group that rents out the Schmidt House for weddings and private parties. The group also operates and maintains Tumwater Falls Park and offers college scholarships to South Sound high school graduates.
“He’s just part of the fabric of the whole foundation,” said Jacalyn Tobosa, foundation executive vice president. “He’s our institutional memory for the Schmidt House.”
He has also been the plumber, electrician, painter, window washer, gardener and overall handyman who has tackled every job, large and small, to keep the Schmidt House in its stately condition.
In other words, he will be hard to replace.
“We’re talking to Bob, trying to record the oral history of the Schmidt House and trying to ensure we know how things operate,” Tobosa said.
Crim, 72, said he has no desire to retire and will continue working for the foundation as long as his health allows. “I’ve got too much of my life here,” Crim said “I just can’t leave it.”
Those sentiments don’t surprise Robbie Schmidt, whose grandfather, Adolph Schmidt, was one of Leopold’s five sons.
“He’s the most loyal guy you could ever find,” Schmidt said. Schmidt recalled the days when there was a greenhouse on the property and Crim grew flowers for the brewery grounds and designed the flower beds.
This time of year, Crim spends about 75 percent of his time maintaining the lawn and landscaping around the 2.5-acre estate. He also waters the Centennial Rose Garden built on the grounds and dedicated in 1989 to celebrate 100 years of statehood. The roses are cared for by the Olympia Chapter of the American Rose Society.
“They want me to join the society. Then they’d probably ask me to take care of the roses bushes,” he said with a grin.
Crim knows all the trees on the property, and points to the monkey tree in the front yard, which was planted when the house was built 106 years ago.
“It’s the oldest one in the state,” Crim said.
He can recall the hurricane-force winds whipping through South Sound during the Columbus Day Storm of 1962. “We lost 33 trees,” he said.
Over the years, Crim said, he has prepared the home and grounds for some 2,500 weddings.
“I’ve had to respond to floods, power outages – whatever it takes to keep the weddings going,” he said.
Called on often to pick up Schimdt family children at the train station or airport, he wore a red plastic hat so the kids knew who their escort was.
A tour of the Schmidt House led by Crim is filled with bits of Schmidt family history.
Down in the basement, Crim showed me the “tin room,” where brewery president Peter G. Schmidt fashioned dust pans he dispensed for use across the street at the brewery.
On the third floor sits the nautical-themed bedroom of Peter Schmidt Jr., valuable bound volumes of Life magazine sitting in the built-in bookcase.
The basement is also chock full of family photographs, journals, correspondence and memorabilia. The Olympia Tumwater Foundation just received a $7,000 grant from Thurston County to better inventory all the materials and develop a virtual family history tour that will be posted on the foundation website later this year at www. olytumfoundation.org.
Crim has worked at the Schmidt House long enough to remember how quiet it was at work before Interstate 5 started carrying traffic beneath the hillside setting in 1958.
Today, the house is flanked by two sobering sights: the original brewery and warehouse – falling into decay on the Deschutes River shoreline directly below the house – and an abandoned building from the newer brewery, marred by a gaping hole in the wall where copper vats and other equipment were pulled out and sold after the brewery ceased operation in 2004.
“It’s hard to look at those holes in the building,” Crim said. “I sure hope they find a use for the old brewery, but I don’t know.”
The one thing Crim knows for sure is this: He doesn’t want to leave his beloved Schmidt House.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org