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Olympia is Washington's Capitol City

overcast 68 °F

(Thursday) Since being in Seattle and near the Capitol of Washington State I felt a desire to drive down to see Olympia. An 1 1/2 hour drive through heavy traffic on I-5, I found the charming city of Olympia (Pop. 50K). The docent in the capitol tour was asked, "Why was Olympia chosen as the site of the State Capitol?" She explained that prior to statehood in 1889 Washington territory was very thinly populated. Olympia had the most people at the time and Seattle was just a small fishing and logging village. A generous citizen donated 10 acres of land on which to build the territorial capitol. The first settlers arrived in the 1840's and the settlement became the site of the US Customhouse in the Northwest. Fast-forward to 1896 when gold was discovered in the Yukon, Seattle exploded in population and commerce as I explained in a previous blog.

Washington's Old State Capitol building, built in 1892, first served as a courthouse. Then in 1903 it became the Capitol, later burned like many capitol buildings of that period. The present stone building was completed in 1928. The attractive site consists of the Capitol centered and flanked by separate Georgian-style buildings on 4 sides. These buildings hold the Supreme Court chambers, and legislative office buildings. The grounds were designed by famed landscape architect, Frederick Olmstead and include imposing monuments, memorials, and a replica of Rome's Tivoli fountain. A New York architectural firm was chosen for the design of the buildings. Louis Tiffany contracted for the chandeliers, both in the rotunda and in the legislative chambers, Senate and House and the massive bronze entrance door sets. The 6 doors, weighing 1 ton each are of cast bronze with panels in bias relief depicting Washington State's commerce; ship building, fishing, timbering, agriculture, mining, railroads, etc. The exterior was built of Washington sandstone with the 287' tall masonry dome, one of the largest in the world. The choice of building materials presents a modern day dilemma for the state. Over the years the exterior has become dirty from airborne pollutants. Last year the Supreme Court building was cleaned by pressure washing and the sandstone and concrete, both being porous were damaged in the process. Another method is under study before they can proceed with the much-needed cleaning of the buildings' exteriors.

The inside, however, is beautiful. Walls and floors are covered in Alaskan marble thorough-out. The Senate and House chambers have German marble decor and the Governor's Reception Room is covered with French marble. The Reception Room is the most elegant room and is used for formal entertaining of visiting dignitaries and the Governor's press conferences. The Capitol building, while lacking the splendor of other capitols, reflects the conservatism of the period in which it was built. The land was early in development as a State. With today's booming population and rich resources, both intellectual and natural, the Capitol building would be much different.

After leaving Olympia my next stop was Tacoma, which is situated south of Seattle and north of Olympia. A city of 200K pop., it bustles with activity. The Seattle-Tacoma Seaport Alliance boasts the 3rd largest container seaport in the US. Giant sea-going container ships are seen at the maze of wharves in the harbor. In times past, the city was chosen as the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad when the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1887. With it came hordes of people seeking to settle here. Nearby copper mining and smelters to process the ore were built in Tacoma, adding to the prosperity. Today, Seattle and Tacoma, while 30 miles apart actually flow together along the coast.

The Washington State Museum is located in the Union Station Complex. a restored 1911 railway station built by the Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and Union Pacific railways. It is a magnificent Beaux Arts-style building of huge proportions. The center portion now houses offices of the Washington State Supreme Court. The museum gives a comprehensive overview of the State's history and natural resources. Numerous vignettes depict early settlers with covered wagons, the fishing industry, building of railroads, lifestyles and cultures of the people, Native American peoples, etc. There was a large display on the Columbia River and its influence on the State's history. The contributions of agriculture with its wheat land, its apple-growing region, and vineyards and wine production were showcased. Logging the forests with the timber camps and sawmills were another feature. Also featured, is the State's largest model train display in a 1950's setting. Just magnificent! Of all the State Museums I have visited so far, this one ranks among the top. I am glad I stopped.

More to come in my ongoing visit of Seattle................

Posted by dixter 06:01 Archived in USA Tagged and museum state capitol visits

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