Olympia High School’s Location Book-ended By Two Families

By: Emmett O’Connell

The location of the stand alone Olympia High School has always been wrapped up in the histories of two Olympia families and the expansion of the state capitol campus.

Its strange to think, but Olympia existed for over 50 years before 1906 when Mary Miller donated land just northeast of the current state capitol for Olympia’s first high school. The connection between the Miller family and the family of Isaac Stevens (the first territorial governor) is a common thread throughout the history of the school.

Mrs. Miller’s husband, William Winlock Miller, was a close political advisor to Governor Stevens. Miller also served in a more official role as Steven’s quartermaster during the Puget Sound War and as the more intimate administrator of his estate after Stevens was killed in the Civil War.

Mrs. Miller’s only requirement in gifting the land to the school district was that the school be named for W.W. Miller. That name is still attached to the school, though it has moved twice since it first opened in 1908.

Gorden Newell points out in “Rogues, Buffoons and Statemen” that without Mrs. Miller’s donation, Olympia likely would’ve waited a bit longer for a high school, as previous attempts to pay for one through a public vote had failed.

The school’s first move was necessitated less than a decade later when the state capitol campus was being established in its current form. As the first of the stone buildings were being constructed, the state bought the school for use as an office building. But, as a new high school was being built across Capitol Way, the original high school caught fired and burned in the summer 1918.

Construction on the new building was completed the next winter and Olympia High School remained on Capitol Way until the 1960s, when expansion of the state capitol campus again necessitated another move.

While the land for the new school actually purchased, not gifted as was the original parcel, it was the Stevens family who provided the land this time.

Isaac Steven’s son, Hazard, had migrated back to Olympia in the latter part of the 1800s, and among other pursuits, founded Cloverfields, a model cattle farm between Olympia and Tumwater. After his death, his sister’s family moved onto and operated the farm through her death in the 1940s.

Through the 1930s and 40s, portions of the farm were developed into housing, and in 1949 the school district bought the 45 acre site that now hosts not only Olympia High School, but Pioneer Elementary.

 

Works cited and additional reading

Rogues, BuffoonsandStatemen, by Gordon Newell

OlympiaHighSchool, by Jim Kainber

ConfederacyofAmbition, by William Lang

EastCapitolSitePlanIsApproved, reprinted on Olyblog

SoutheastNeighborhoodhistoricbrochure

AgricultureLandsinThurstonCounty, historic register filing (includes history of Cloverfields)

GuidetotheKateStevensBatesPapers

Mid-20thCenturyOlympia: Context Paper on Local History and Modern Architecture

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