A proposal to name a point in Olympia’s East Bay after an African-American couple who lived nearby in the 1860s and 1870s and ran a prominent downtown hotel will go before a state committee on names in the coming week.
Rebecca and Alexander Howard moved to Olympia from Massachusetts and operated the Pacific House near what is now State Avenue Northeast and Capitol Way North. The couple lived near a small cape on the east side of East Bay, about a mile southeast of Priest Point.
The application to formally name the cape Howard Point was submitted by local historian Edward Echtle Jr. A few years ago he was part of a team that created a guide to historical sites of black pioneers in the area, including the Pacific House site.
In its heyday, the Pacific House served as the informal headquarters of the Republican Party during legislative sessions, according to the guide, and President Rutherford B. Hayes addressed a crowd from a second-floor balcony during a 1880 visit.
As part of his research, Echtle came across an 1890 map of Olympia that includes the name Howard Point. Back then, he said, the land jutted out more; later fill was added on either side to build East Bay Drive Northeast.
“Very few people realize there were black folks living and contributing in that area. The significance is to have the history as inclusive as it can be,” said Thelma Jackson, who worked on the guide and is compiling an oral history of African-Americans here in the mid-20th century. “If we can’t document (it), if we can’t point that out, they’ll never know.”
The naming proposal has initial approval from the state’s Committee on Geographic Names. If it is approved at a hearing Dec. 7, it will go to the Board of Natural Resources, which must sign off on naming proposals for any geographic feature in the state, for final approval.
The Olympia Historical Society and Olympia Tumwater Foundation have submitted letters supporting the naming.