Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
…took the road less traveled by, and that
Has made all the difference…
Now that the USGA Open has finished—congrats to Jordan Spieth and all those who braved the links at Chambers Bay in mid-June—folks may be looking something equally exciting to do during the next few weeks.
While thousands of visitors have toured Tacoma’s State History Museum in downtown Tacoma, few may be aware that, within an approximately half dozen-square-mile area south of the City of Destiny, there are half a dozen community museums, filled with displays that focus on little known aspects of local history.
For those seeking an out-of-the-way weekend, or even longer, adventure, consider taking some roads less traveled north to the Puget Sound region where by visiting half a dozen small museums, during a pretty intense week, it will introduce travelers to a big slice of early, formative, Northwest history, and perhaps entice you to return for a few of the upcoming festivities such as a Salmon Bake, and Apple Squeeze, or a Concert in the Park.
If you’re someone who enjoys an intense weekend, here’s a recommended itinerary, with tips about accommodations, restaurants and access to further information. To access this area, begin by taking the Lakewood Exit from I-5 and meander a few “roads less traveled by.”
Begin at Lakewood Historical Society’s museum. Begun in 1996 when Lakewood officially became a city, LHS is housed in the Lakewood Colonial Center off Mt. Tacoma Dr. It was the first major shopping center in the area built in 1937 by Norton Clapp, a partner in the corporation that, in 1962, built the Space Needle for the Seattle World’s Fair. LHS’s current exhibit focuses on area playgrounds, from golf to water, to make-believe castles.
Proceed to the outskirts of Lakewood to spend a few hours at Historic Ft. Steilacoom. After the Hudson’s Bay Company moved north, they abandoned thousands of acres that made up the Puget Sound Agricultural Company.
The U. S. Government bought some of that land, and promptly established the first American military post in the area. During Ft. Steilacoom’s two-decade existence that included its role in the 1853-55 Indian Wars, many renowned military officers such as (future) Generals George Pickett, William T. Sherman, Augustus Kautz, and U. S. Grant spent their early years at the fort. Four original buildings from the mid 1850s have been restored on land that now houses Western Washington State Hospital. Slightly more than two miles further south along the road is the Town of Steilacoom—oldest city in Washington—and location for Steilacoom Historical Museum and the Steilacoom Tribal Cultural Center and Museum.
Steilacoom Tribal Cultural Center and Museum, housed in the original Oberlin Congregational Church at 1313 Lafayette St., provides an overview of Steilacoom Tribal culture and customs, including the local legend about a friendship that began when a Steilacoom Indian traded a fresh-caught salmon for “the shirt off Nathaniel Orr’s back.” The Tribe, renowned for its “fry bread”—mostly available during the Fourth of July and at the October Apple Squeeze, is open only on weekends. Steilacoom, means “Pink Flowers.”
SHMA museum’s collection highlights the community’s legitimate “Boast” about being the “Place of Firsts” including courthouse, brewery and library. There’s also a self-guided walking tour map to its assortment of 19th Century homes. This community was founded by two energetic men—Lafayette Balch and John Chapman; both men had grand plans for their community, particularly Balch who wanted his town (finally in 1854, the adjoining towns were combined and became the first incorporated city in Washington Territory) to be the territorial capital, among other things. Balch was responsible for bringing the newspaper to his town (Courier, then the Herald).
The Johnson Farm on Anderson Island is accessible via the Pierce County Ferry. Purchase tickets at the Ticket Office at the foot of Union Avenue; then sit back and enjoy the half-hour trip to the Island. (You’ll need a car to get around).
Many people describe Anderson Island, named by HBC in the 1800s for explorer Alexander Anderson, as a little bit like Mayberry RFD. The original 1896 Johnson Farm, the setting for many of the Island’s cultural activities, was once a major egg- producing farm for the region. Historic exhibits and a gift shop are housed within the farmhouse and three original chicken houses. The farm’s picturesque pole barn and its community garden are especially photogenic, especially when the Red Dragon visits in October.
Because a visit to the Island and all its offerings, from its lakeside restaurant to the old swimmin’ hole, takes longer than most museum visits, consider making it an “over-night” trip, booking accommodations at one of the Island’s many B&Bs. Check the AI website for details.
Continue your exploration when you’ve returned to the mainland. Drive south along the DuPont/Steilacoom Road to DuPont. Exit at Barksdale Ave. to visit its historical “butcher shop” museum.
A decade before Tacoma residents approved the sale of land south of American Lake to the U.S. Government to establish a military presence in the area, a New Jersey Manufacturer established an Explosives Plant on acreage southwest of Steilacoom. The E. I. DuPont de Nemours Company built its west coast dynamite plant and company town near what once was the original Hudson’s Bay Company operation at Ft. Nisqually.
In the late 20th century the DuPont land was purchased by the Weyerhaeuser Company, and has since evolved into the residential community of DuPont/Northwest Landing. The original City of DuPont, known as “The Village,” retains much of its original historic charm, including the museum housed in the former butcher shop, and the former explosive company’s train.
An outing to one, or all, of these nearby museums, besides providing an opportunity to gain an appreciation for local history and select items from gift shop inventories, is well worth the investment.
These museums are staffed by volunteers. Check with each museum before visiting:
Lakewood Historical Society
6211 Mt. Tacoma Dr., S.W., 253-682-3480
W-Sat. Noon to 4
Historic Ft. Steilacoom
9601 Steilacoom Blvd., 253-582-5838.
Sunday, 1-4, May-Oct.
Re-enactments throughout the year, including the popular Christmas at The Fort event, held in December.
Steilacoom Historic Museum
1801 Rainier Street, 253-584-4133
Salmon Bake, Apple Squeeze, Ice Cream Social, Christmas at the Orr Home, Kids Club.
Steilacoom Tribal Cultural Center and Museum and gift shop are open from 10 -4 on Saturdays. () 1313 Lafayette St., 253-584-6308
Johnson Farm, Anderson Island
9306 Otso Point Road, 10-4 Sat.-Sun. during the summer Salmon Bake, Apple Squeeze, Labor Day Picnic.
DuPont Historical Society, 207 Barksdale Ave., 1-4, Wednes., Thurs., Fri. and Sun. Phone 253-964-2399 to arrange a special tour.
Area accommodations include the Best Western Motor Inn in Lakewood, Hampton Inn & Suites, The Liberty Inn and Guest House Motel at DuPont, and Around the Sound B&B in Steilacoom. Anderson Island features several guest houses, including the Inn at Berg’s Landing. Visit community webpages for details about these places.
Area eateries include Farrelli’s Pizza and McNamera’s Irish Pub, both in DuPont. On Anderson Island, consider a visit to the Riviera Lakeshore Restaurant on Lake Josephine. On the mainland at Steilacoom, there’s De La Terre, Steilacoom Pub and Deli, Espresso by the Bay, Topside Bar and Grill, and the Bair Bistro.
Lakewood and environs contains eateries ranging from The Ram and Panera to Carr’s, Long Beach, Applebee’s, Red Robin and more.