Thurston County offers a wide variety of recreational activities year round, especially water-related activities because of the Puget Sound and the area’s many lakes. One of these is Offut Lake. Over its long history the lake has been home to many different people but has remained a recreational area for the county.
Offut Lake is located in central Thurston County, nine miles south of Olympia and five miles northeast of Tenino. Located 234 feet above sea level and covering 191.2 acres, the lake has a maximum depth of 25 feet and drains northeast to the Deschutes River.
The lake takes its name from the Offutt family. Brothers, James Warrant Offutt and Mildford Offutt, moved to the area in the early 1850s, settling donation land claims near the lake. According to Professor Edmund S. Meany’s Origins of Washington Geographic Names, the name of “Offut” quickly came into common usage for the lake by around 1860, with the locals dropping the second “t.”
Over time a community began to form around the lake, taking the name of Offut. In its early days logging was the most important industry in the area. For example, according to the Washington Standard newspaper, in October 1919, after a fire had destroyed the building, Sidney Burnett reopened his sawmill with a dance and “big feed.” With a capacity of over 30,000 board feet a day, the mill boasted a clubroom for employees including a lounge, reading room and pool hall. Other logging companies also operated around the lake in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
A small rural community eventually developed around the lake. In 1910 lakeside homes were platted for the south shore. A Chicago, Milwaukee and Saint Paul Railway station was built in the same year, and a post office was established in 1913 in Postmaster Elum A. Collins’ general store. Although the post office would close in 1918, its existence reflected the growing popularity of resorts and recreational use of the lake.
Thus besides logging, the lake has long been a popular spot for visitors. Recreational fishing opportunities and its location near major population centers made it a favored spot for family, organization and community events. For example, in September 1915, the Olympia Daily Recorder newspaper observed the following about an event centered on automobiles:
Fords to the right of them, Fords to the left of them, Fords all about them. That was the condition of those who had the pleasure of attending the great picnic given to the Ford owners by the Ford dealers of southwest Washington yesterday at Offut Lake. The day was ideal for a picnic that permeated the great gathering at the lake but enhanced the vigor and snap of a perfect outing day in the country. Long before noon the roads leading to the picnic grounds at the lake were alive with the familiar little cars that purred their way to the holiday gathering. Old Fords, new Fords and every other kind of a Ford wheeled into the space left for parking. Lunch baskets were unloaded, bathing suits taken from stowage corners and lithesome hearts prepared to enjoy the day in the open. Two bands furnished the inspiration for the many dancers who swung over the perfect floor of the pavilion, boats and canoes glided gracefully over the smooth surface of the lake and happy bathers splashed in the sunlit waters. The ‘hot dog’ flourished and the hot coffee added zest to the picnic luncheons, while the touch of excitement needed to complete the day was furnished by the contest in the water, on the dance floor and between the owners of cars.
A gimmick to sell cars, the gathering resulted in the dealers estimating an attendance of 1,500 (with 450 cars). This was but one of many public events held at the lake over the years.
Tourism flourished in the 1920s as the area saw many resorts spring up around the county’s lakes when more affordable and popular automobiles began to reshape how Americans spent their leisure time. With a train station and newly-paved roads, visitors flocked to Offut Lake to enjoy the public dance hall, fishing, picnicking and, of course, its resorts.
The lake’s current resort, the Offut Lake Resort, shows the continuing importance of the lake as a tourist site. It traces its origins to “Ada’s Resort,” built in 1939 by Charles and Ada Short on the site of a resort operated by J. E. Corlette in the early 20th century. Ada’s Resort was sold in 1953, reopening as the Offut Lake Resort. This establishment offers cabins, RV and tent camping, the Lady of the Lake Public House restaurant as well as dock and boat rentals. They also hold an annual polar bear plunge on New Year’s Day. The Pogue family has owned the resort since 1998.
Offut Lake is open to sport fishing year round. Washington State Fish and Wildlife department access is on the west side of the lake. The water body is stocked with rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout. The lake also has native large-mouth bass, yellow perch and brown bullhead catfish. Fishing is certainly part of the long history of family fun at Offut Lake.