Prior to the arrival of American settlers, this was the northern extent of a peninsula; at low tide vast mudflats extended a mile to the north. Edmund Sylvester platted Olympia in 1850 and in 1854 Edward Giddings built the first downtown wharf, extending from the north end of Main Street 300 feet. Sailing vessels and paddle-wheel steamboats carrying passengers and cargo arrived and departed at high tide. Between tides, boats tied up at the wharf sat on the muddy bottom.
Wharf construction was an ongoing concern in Olympia as wood-eating organisms made short work of pilings. The sheer size of the mudflats and the constant silting from the outflow of the Deschutes River into Budd Inlet thwarted early plans to dredge a deep-water channel to the wharf. In 1886, the city purchased Giddings’ wharf for use as a public dock and extended it nearly a mile to deeper water. It included a warehouse that also served as a “pest house” to shelter people quarantined by authorities for contagious illness.
By the 1890s nearby Percival’s wharf was the primary landing in Olympia, prompting the city to abandon the Main Street Wharf and it quickly deteriorated beyond use. Dredging operations beginning in the 1890s opened deep-water channels for shipping to Percival’s Dock and East Bay and engineers used the spoils to fill the tide flats around downtown Olympia. By World War I, industries including a shipyard, a manufactured gas plant, lumber and plywood mills, a cannery and other concerns located on the new land created north of here. Since the 1970s, many of these industries closed or relocated and the area is once again in transition. While an active port and log staging area remain, the fill is now also home to the Olympia Farmer’s Market, marinas, restaurants and professional offices.
Stevenson, Shanna. “Superior Shipping Service”: A History of the Port of Olympia. Olympia, Wash: Port of Olympia, 1982., 7-8.
Newell, Gordon R. Rogues, Buffoons & Statesmen; The Inside Story of Washington’s Capital City & the Hilarious History of 120 Years of State Politics. Seattle, Wash: Superior Pub. Co, 1975, 111
Rathbun, John C. History of Thurston County, Washington. 1895., 97.
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