Main St, Tumwater,
Tumwater, known as the end of the Oregon Trail or Cowlitz Trail, is the oldest permanent American settlement on Puget Sound. It is located at the mouth of the Deschutes River where it cataracts into Puget Sound at its most southerly point. The City of Tumwater is adjacent to and shares a portion of its boundaries with the State Capital (Olympia).
The Coastal Salish Indian groups whose descendants are now members of the tribes now known as Nisqually, Squaxin Island, and Chehalis gathered shellfish and frequented the inlets and prairies of Puget Sound for centuries before Euro-American exploration and settlement. The rivers of the County were long-established sites for salmon harvesting, the prairies were popular hunting and plant harvesting sites, and the beaches were replete with shellfish, harvested by native peoples.
Michael T Simmons
Henderson House Museum Photo
In 1845, Michael T. Simmons, led the first group of permanent American settlers to Tumwater Falls. He settled in the area that would become Tumwater while others in the party, including George Bush, a mulatto man, and his family, settled in the rich prairies to the south. The decision of this group to settle north of the Columbia River was made in part because Oregon Provisional Government laws banned the residency of mulattoes but did not actively enforce the restriction north of the river. The 31 members of the Simmons party laboriously cut a wagon trail that became the northern branch of the Oregon Trail. Others followed, with the establishment of Olympia in 1850 and settlement of the natural prairies and river bottom lands throughout the county in the 1850’s.
When the City was founded in 1845, it was named New Market. By 1863 the city was known as “Tumwater”, the Chinook jargon word for a waterfall.
Tumwater, known as “Washington’s First Community,” was the starting point for further American settlements at Olympia, Seattle, Whidbey Island, and other points on Puget Sound. It was from Puget Sound that the movement to divide Oregon grew, resulting in the creation of Washington Territory in 1853.
Lincoln Flouring Mill
Henderson House Museum Photo
The City’s early growth and development were greatly influenced by the close proximity to the power generating falls of the Deschutes River, the nearby saltwater access for transportation and communication, and the abundance of timber in the area. The town developed on the lands around the mouth of the river and homes and sawmills sprang up along its banks above the original settlement.
On November 25, 1869, Tumwater was officially incorporated as a fourth class town. In 1964, the voters of Tumwater elected to change the classification to a third class city. In 1994, the Tumwater City Council opted to change, by Ordinance, the classification to a non-charter code city with a Mayor-Council form of government.
Tumwater is the third largest city in Thurston County with an official population of 17,570. Tumwater covers 14.5 square miles. The Mayor and seven Councilmembers are elected by the registered voters of the City to staggered four-year terms.
The City provides what are considered general governmental services authorized by state law, including public safety, highways and streets, parks and recreation, planning and zoning, permits and inspections, general administration and water, sewer and stormsewer services.
The City is served by congressional districts 3 and 9 and legislative districts 20, 22 and 35.
The weather in Tumwater resembles that of England with fair-weather conditions and gray, wet winters. The mild climate favors lushly forested landscapes with plenty of ferns and moss. It is an ideal gardening climate that favors all four seasons. Even though Tumwater, in the southern portion of Puget Sound, may be recognized for rainy days, our average annual rainfall is a mere 51 inches, even less than Atlanta, New Orleans, or Houston.
Updated: October 12, 2011