Surely Goodness

Team of four struggles to save local historical society in Tumwater – help them!


What is the big deal about cities having historical societies? Well, this writer favors historic preservation for all communities and associations to promote and preserve history for all. But it is my judgment that Tumwater especially needs an association. Why? Well… it’s a little city with a big history! 

Short lesson on a big history 

The greater Tumwater area is the original home of the ancestors of today's Squaxin Island Tribe. The City of Tumwater is at the end of the Cowlitz Trail, a Puget Sound segment of the Oregon Trail, an ancient trade and travel route for indigenous people. It was also the first non-Indigenous American settlement in Washington. The settlers were travelers on the Cowlitz Trail.

This area within the official Oregon Territory was eventually incorporated into Washington Territory and, finally, Washington State. In 1845, the town was named New Market. It was founded by George Bush, a mixed-race man, co-leader of the Bush-Simmons Party who, with his wife Isabella, traveled by covered wagon from Missouri. By 1863, the name changed from New Market to Tumwater, a word derived from Chinook Jargon, meaning "waterfall."  

Recent update 

In 2023, the City of Tumwater approved an ordinance adding the Tumwater segment of the Cowlitz Trail to the Oregon National Historic Trail. This was based on a 2020 National Park Service feasibility study of ten Oregon Trail study areas authorized by the US Congress.

The study was in response to years of sustained public interest, pursued under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. It is still awaiting approval at the local level by Thurston County before it can proceed to the Washington State Legislature, then to the Washington State Senate.  

Portraits of the remaining members of the Tumwater Historical Society’s (THA) executive board, Karen Johnson, Anne Kelleher, Corinne Tobeck, and Sandi Gray.
Portraits of the remaining members of the Tumwater Historical Society’s (THA) executive board, Karen Johnson, Anne Kelleher, Corinne Tobeck, and …

THA, a community treasure 

For forty years, the Tumwater Historical Association has served the community by promoting history and providing community service. For instance, many parents and students of Tumwater Middle School fondly remember the highly popular THA/Tumwater school district Homesteader program, which for 25 years provided hands-on living history experiences, plus curriculum development, an annual community cider squeeze, and pioneer fair events for the public.  

Other events over THA’s 40 year life span, include community programs and activities such as:

  • Period fashion shows
  • Quilt shows, registries and workshops
  • Poster contests for schoolchildren
  • The stagecoach runs of 2007 and 2008 between Olympia and Longview
  • A Heritage Speaker Series
  • Yearly scholarships for graduating seniors from Tumwater and Black Hills high schools
  • The Thurston County Through the Decades series of programs which brought together all the historical groups in the county for a hands-on festival celebrating the history of Thurston County
  • A Women Vote program for the centennial celebration of women winning the vote in Washington
  • Hands-on history activities at the Thurston County Fair, in partnership with other history organizations
  • Participation in history programs of neighboring towns such as Railroad Days and Pioneer Days in Tenino
  • Sponsoring a booth with activities each year at Thurston County Birthday Party
  • Mentoring the Homesteader girls for several years during their quilting unit
  • Making quilts to donate to schools and needy children
  • Promoting/selling The History of Tumwater series by Don Trosper
  • Conducting hands-on weaving crafts for Tumwater’s Falls Fest

Logo of Tumwater Historical Society (THA).
Logo of Tumwater Historical Society (THA).

THA needs a boost! 

With a rich early history involving diverse people, you may be surprised that the Tumwater Historical Association (THA), now struggles to remain in existence. Many of the executive board and association members are no longer active or have dropped out due to advanced age, the aftermath of COVID-19, illness, relocation, and more.

The remaining THA team would love to revitalize this group with board members and volunteers. The executive board, now down to four, should have 11 members, according to the society’s charter.   

During the past four years, a small team has struggled to keep the association alive and with some activities. Participation in community events is particularly important— both for raising a little money with which to operate and to be eligible for grant monies available for non-profit groups, e.g. the monies available to groups that sponsor activities that draw people to the area.

This small team consists of Sandi Gray, a former member of the Tumwater School Board; Karen Johnson, curator at Schmidt House in Tumwater; Anne Kelleher, retired Tumwater teacher and co-founder of the Tumwater Middle School Homesteaders living history program; and Corinne Tobeck, also a former Tumwater School Board member and current president of THA.

These four women have managed to keep the THA organization semi-active with participation in two or three community events each year, paying the bills on time, picking up the mail, writing the grants, collecting the dues (sometimes), and keeping the lines of communication open.  But—they are tired and cannot continue doing this much longer.  They need help to keep THA alive and active.  

This community jewel needs to be saved and brought back to a full and productive life, especially with America 250 on the horizon!  Most especially, they need seven generous and community-spirited persons to fill the offices of President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and three additional Trustees.  Three of the four current officers have agreed to stay on as Trustees and as Past President for a year or two until the situation has stabilized and the new officers are comfortable in their duties.   

THA welcomes members from Tumwater and nearby areas.  Currently, the board has members heralding from both Thurston and Lewis counties.

According to Anne Kelleher, "We sincerely believe that there are many persons out there who would enjoy being part of a group that brings enjoyable history activities to their community and who would take great satisfaction in knowing that they had helped save a valuable asset that not every town is lucky enough to have."  If this last sentence describes you, then this is a message to you from Corinne, Sandi, Karen, and Anne.

Anne urges, “Don’t wait!  Join us!  We desperately need you!  The process is easy—just contact Anne at 360-539-8839 or Sandi at 360-943-0405. Note: The website of contains some missing/outdated links but is still a great historical resource for the group. (THA also seeks a volunteer webmaster!)  

Shirley Stirling, of Lacey, writes about good things people in Thurston County are doing. If you’d like to nominate someone to be profiled, contact her at or comment below.


3 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • griffithga

    Thank you again Shirley for your article that brings a spotlight on our rich local history and the dedicated individuals and organizations who work selflessly and passionately to find, share, and preserve it. It is unfortunate that this article is about the challenge faced by Sandi, Karen, Anne, and Corinne to sustain the good work of the Tumwater Historical Association. Even more unfortunate is that the challenges faced by THA are also faced by heritage organizations in our region, state, and nation. Yes, let's help THA remain strong and active to benefit future generations of Tumwater citizens.

    Saturday, May 11 Report this

  • mtndancer

    Would new energy be encouraged by including Indigenous life ways in the living history projects? Would that bring some new people into the project? The fields of camas, maintained by carefully timed burning, the fishing, and many other factors made the Tumwater area a great place for the Squaxin folks and related tribes.

    Saturday, May 11 Report this

  • Terrilovesanimals

    Don't forget who founded Palermo Valley! When they came from Italy they became citizens and they were all taught to speak English instead of Italian since this was now their country!

    Sunday, May 12 Report this