By Kathryn Millhorn
When the chilly autumn winds drive us indoors, thoughts turn to family, history, and community. All three are embodied within a walking tour of Tumwater’s stunning, historic Schmidt House. Tours are available throughout September and—like the perfect roses in their garden—shouldn’t be missed.
Built in 1904, the Schmidt house was the residence of Leopold and Johanna Schmidt. Their family founded the Olympia Brewing Company after Leopold discovered the regions many pure artesian springs on a business trip to the area. Already known for his Montana brewery, Schmidt moved west and began brewing and shipping beer from their trademark location near Tumwater Falls as early as 1896.
Parents of six children, several of whom were born on the premises, this first generation of the Schmidt family lived on site until the deaths of Johanna and Leopold in 1911 and 1914, respectively. Their children, grandchildren, and beyond are still active in the area and on the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, who took over the property in 1983.
The home is now available for walking tours throughout the month of September. While only recently available, they hope to expand the tour schedule as time passes. Olympia Tumwater Foundation Public History and Development Manager Vida Zvirzdys-Farler is proud that they have “devised a pictorial history” for the tour and “promote other historic homes nearby” as well.
Tours are traditionally limited to eight or nine people though in the past school and educational groups have been accommodated. The high point of these trips down memory lane is just that…the memory of guide Bob Crim. Originally hired as an Olympia brewery employee he’s been the home’s caretaker since 1955. In 1983 he became a Foundation staff member and Farler knows that “people love the personal touch. They love his personal stories of time with the Schmidt family.” As Bob himself admits, “people walk in and I give them a tour—I can’t resist it.”
Crim’s care for the family extended to every aspect of daily life. When instructed to dispose of drawers full of vintage clothes, he didn’t feel comfortable simply taking them to second-hand stores in town. Instead he devised a more beneficial solution: they were all donated to Olympia theatre groups, stocking their costume closets with the styles of former days.
The grounds house the Centennial Rose Garden, the Olympia Rose Society, the Pacific Northwest District of the American Rose Society, a small reflecting pool, and memorial garden honoring the home’s founding family.
The Schmidt house is also available for a very limited number of weddings and events each year. The site books quickly so interested parties should call the office at 360-786-8117. Says Farler, hosting events “is a wonderful asset but the Foundation isn’t focused on being a venue. We’re focused on history.”
History is a beautiful, tangible thing when touring a restored home. Photographs on the walls spotlight the very real lives of those who’ve stood where you stand more than 100 years ago. History buffs of all ages shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore a rare gem like the Schmidt house.
The home’s hours are Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. with tours taking place Thursdays at noon, 1:30 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. Donations are greatly appreciated.
From October through June, there are also free history talks on the premises on every third Thursday from noon until 1:30 p.m.
Whether wandering amidst the roses and statuary of the pristine grounds or exploring the nooks, crannies, and pocket-sized bathrooms (trust me, not to be missed!) of the main house, there is no finer way to spend a beautiful fall afternoon.