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Area History

It all began when Peter Puget, a British Explorer, visited the Pacific Northwest waterways in 1792. Native Americans referred to the area as "the black bear place". It was a popular meeting place for neighboring tribes to share in each other's wealth.

Olympia WA - Puget SoundIn 1846, Levi Lathrop Smith and Edmond Sylvester were the first Americans to take up residence in the southernmost point of "the black bear place," now known as the Puget Sound. Soon after, Sylvester plotted the town (later named Olympia), which included a town square, land for schools, a Masonic hall and capitol grounds. In 1852, Olympia was named county seat for the newly organized Thurston County.

Washington was declared a territory in 1853 and Olympia, which had the only newspaper, was named the capital. The area continued to grow throughout both World Wars, and though Olympia was often challenged in maintaining its "capital" status, it was mandated in 1953 by the state Supreme Court to officially locate all state agency headquarters in Olympia.

Since then, Olympia, along with its neighbors, Lacey and Tumwater, has experienced significant growth. It is now home to over 215,000 residents with approximately half the population living in the urban tri-city area, while others prefer the smaller towns of Yelm, Tenino, Rainier, Bucoda and the surrounding Thurston County area. Thurston County is one of the fastest growing areas in Washington State.

Historically, Thurston County has been home to the logging industry, as well as farming and coal mining. Sandstone cutting flourished in Tenino around the turn-of-the-century, and the shellfish industry continues to prosper. Lumber processing as well as logging, farming and hunting began in settlements as early as the 1830s. But the history of Thurston County has been, and continues to be shaped by, its role as the seat of government for Washington State.

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