History of Olympia
The region of present-day Olympia was originally inhabited by hunter-gatherer tribes, such as Nisqually, Suquamish and Puyallup. The first explorers in the area were members of the Vancouver Expedition, led by Peter Puget, in 1792. They did not stay in the area and it was only in 1833 That Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Nisqually, a fur trading post. This post and the others that were built around it were later converted into working farms.
The first actual settlers started arriving in the early 1840s, attracted by the water potential of Tumwater Falls and the proximity of Tumwater, the first European settlement on Puget Sound. The land that today comprises downtown Olympia was bought in 1846 and got its current name in 1853, after the Olympic Mountains northwest of the city. In 1852, Olympia became seat of the new Thurston County, which was then still part of the Oregon Territory. Washington Territory was organized in 1853 and Olympia was chosen as its capital.
The city entered a period of steady growth over the next 20 years, until the Northern Pacific Railroad chose Tacoma as its western terminus. Olympia residents built their own little railroad that was the only one reaching the city until Northern Pacific built an extension to the city in 1891. Washington was admitted to the Union in 1889 and Olympia was chosen as the state capital. After that, the city was focused on government activities, in addition to already existing industries, such as logging and oystering and, later, sawmilling, fruit canning and shipping.
The Olympia Brewing Company (actually located in Tumwater) was founded in 1896 and was always very important for the city as one of the nation’s largest breweries. It was sold to SABMiller in 2003. World War I and II brought additional boost for the industry in the city and as a consequence Olympia received a new population influx through immigrants who came to work within wartime industry, especially shipbuilding. Olympia was affected by earthquakes on several occasions and the first damage was caused by the 1949 earthquake, which destroyed much of the historic buildings in the city.
After the 1960s, the economy in Olympia changed. The city lost many of its waterfront businesses but after the Evergreen State College was founded in 1967 it became a cultural, artistic and intellectual hub. Today, the city is a major social justice and environmental activism center, famous for its independent music scene and progressive thinking.
Geography and Climate
Olympia occupies an area of 18.5 square miles. It is located at the southern end of Puget Sound, more precisely on Budd Inlet, between Seattle. Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helens. Capitol Lake, created in 1951 after the Deschutes River was dammed, lies between Olympia and Tumwater.
The city has Marine West Coast climate, with some elements of the Mediterranean climate. The weather is usually nice and mild during summers but the winters are wet and cloudy. Olympia has only about 52 clear days a year.
The city has many parks and nature conservation areas, most notably the Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area, Percival Landing Park, Priest Point Park and Sunrise Park. Capitol State Forest and the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge are located just outside the city.
In 2000, the racial makeup in the city was 83.5% White, 5.8% Asian, 4.4% Hispanic or Latino, 1.9% African American, 1.3% Native American, 0.3% Pacific Islander, 1.7% from other races and 3.8% from two or more races. The largest ancestry groups were German, Irish, English and Norwegian, while the most spoken languages were English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
In 2000, the median household income in Olympia was $40,846 and the per capita income was $22,590.
State government is the stabilizing factor for the local economy in Olympia. Other significant sectors are manufacturing, especially industrial supplies, manufacturing and plastics, as well as wood and food processing. Lumber-based industries were once the primary source of revenue for the city but today that sector continues to be in decline. As for the agriculture, this industry is today dominated by smaller, mostly family-operated businesses.
The Evergreen State College, in addition to being a major cultural factor in Olympia, is also a very large employer. There are not many technology companies in the city, so the officials are trying to boost this sector by promoting good telecommunication infrastructure, low property prices and very qualified workforce. As a result, several companies opened in 2000s, such as Univera Inc., Fast Transact and Reach One.
The largest employers in the city are state , federal, tribal and local government, Providence St. Peter Hospital, Columbia Capital Medical Center, Wal-Mart and Costco.
Institutions of higher education in Olympia include the Evergreen State College and South Puget Sound Community College.
Culture and Events
Olympia has a rich cultural live, with institutions such as Capital Playhouse, Olympia Family Theater, Theater Artist Olympia, Minnaert Center, Art in Ecology, Monarch Contemporary Art Center and Sculpture Park, Olympia Film Society and Talhouse Arts Consortium. The city has a large number of small galleries and coffeehouses that regularly host art exhibitions. The DIY spirit is particularly strong in Olympia and the art community is well organized and highly innovative.
One of the major events in Olympia is the Procession of the Species, organized in honor of Earth Day, as well as the Capitol Gay Pride parade.
Olympia was crucial for certain elements in indie culture, most notably the “riot grrrl” movement which originated in the city, and also the heart of the queercore scene. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana used to live in Olympia for a while and he wrote most of the cult album “Nevermind” there. Other notable musicians and bands associated with Olympia include Sleater-Kinney, Team Dresch, Kimya Dawson, Earth, Wolves in the Throne Room and The Gossip.
As for the transportation, passenger rail service is offered by Amtrak. Larger city area is served by Intercity Transit buses. The Olympia Regional Airport is located in nearby Tumwater but the closest full-service commercial airport is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Major highways in the city area are I-5, State Highway 12 and State Highway 101.