Tucked into the back corner of the Capitol campus, the Governor’s Mansion is arguably the most grand home in Olympia. It was built in 1908, just a few years before the plans for the modern Capitol campus were laid down.
At the time, it was seen as being a temporary home for Washington’s governors. And, because Washington had already been a state (and territory) for decades before 1908, other Olympia homes played host to Washington’s first families throughout the years.
The home of Washington’s first territorial governor provides an early example. While Isaac Steven’s family only lived in downtown Olympia for a short time, they took little time to build their own home. Located on what is now the northeast corner of the campus near the World War II memorial, the “Steven’s Mansion” stood until 1928 when it was torn down and the property re-graded to make room for the modern campus.
Kate Stevens Bates, the daughter of Isaac Stevens, describes other first (and prominent) families that made their way through the house:
The Governor and his family made their home in the mansion for about two years, and after they left Olympia, it was occupied successively by various people. Prominent among these were: William Pickering, Governor of the Territory from 1862 to 1867, during the crucial period of the Civil War, and Elisha P. Ferry, Surveyor General of the Territory, afterwards its Governor and, still later, when in 1889 Washington attained statehood, its first State Governor. The Ferry family occupied the house for twelve years. Other occupants of the mansion were: Captain J. G. Parker and his wife, both well known pioneers; General T. I. McKenny, civil war veteran and Indian Agent for the Territory, and his wife and family; J. E. Brown, Registrar of the Land Office; Major Breckenridge and family. Mr. Charles Hewitt, a prominent citizen of Tumwater and of a distinguished pioneer family was born in the house. The late judge T. N. Allen and family lived in it for twenty-nine years, and after the Judge’s disease, his widow and her sister, Miss Stamps, still continued to reside there. Since its renovation it has been occupied by tenants.
Another home that early governor’s passed through before the 1908 governor’s mansion was built was the Gowey House. That house was located where the Columbia Place apartments currently stand, just north of the General Administration Building. The Gowey House played host to governors Elisha Ferry and John R. Rogers at different points.
The last governor to make a full-time separate home away from today’s Governor’s Mansion was Albert Mead. While the governor lobbied and guided the construction of today’s mansion, he was defeated in a primary election and left before completion. As a result, his family never was able to move in.
A house bears his name at the intersection of Capitol and 17th. The family rented this home for awhile. A more stately home for the Mead family though, during those years, was the Percival Mansion, which was located overlooking Budd Inlet at what is now the western end of the 5th Avenue Bridge.
Even after the current Governor’s Mansion was built, Governor’s saw fit to sometimes find other housing or to try to move their families somewhere else.
Governor Dan Evans, during extended repair work on the mansion in the early 70s, moved his family across the campus to the Egbert-Ingham House, which at that point stood where the Capitol Visitor’s Center sits. Because the Egbert-Ingham House was beautiful in its own right and was located in a more prominent place, for years many people assumed that it was the actual governor’s mansion.
Ironically, it was the expansion of the campus itself in the 1970s after the Evans family moved out that almost meant doom for the historic home. But, an intrepid buyer saved it from the wrecking ball by putting it on wheels and moving it down Capitol Way to just south of I-5 (about a block back from the street).
There are at least two homes (one real, one imaginary) that could have ended up being the Governor’s Mansion, if history had worked out differently.
The first was the Titus Mansion, which is more recently known as “The Castle,” located on the north end of the South Capitol Neighborhood on the border with the campus. In the 1940s, the house was owned by the family of Smith Troy, the state’s attorney general.
The then 40-year-old Governor’s Mansion was beginning to shows its age and Governor Mon Wallgren attempted to have the state buy the Titus Mansion as a new Governor’s Mansion. While both Democrats, Troy and Wallgren were also political rivals, and it was an odd situation to have two statewide elected officials debating a house in the newspapers. In the end, Troy prevailed and Wallgren stayed put.
The last house was a house that was never built. The 1908 governor’s mansion predates the master plan for the campus by a few years and was not built in a prominent spot, once the rest of the campus structures were built up around it. In the 1911 drawings of the campus as it was envisioned, a matching office building to the Insurance building on the east side of the legislative building is on the site of the current mansion.
And, a very prominent governor’s mansion is located just north, looking over what is now Capitol Lake. But, that house never came to be (along with the paired office building) and that potentially beautiful site is a parking lot.
More reading and references:
Olympia Historical Society: Stevens “Mansion”
Olympia Historical Society: Percival Mansion
Olympia Historical Society: Gowey House
Olympia Historical Society: Mead House
Olympia Historical Society: Egbert Ingham House