The landmark Abigail Stuart House in downtown Olympia has planned a Grand Reopening and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for June 21 with public tours starting at 3 p.m. After extensive renovations and upgrades, the restored house is opening its doors to the public to host weddings, parties, dance classes and other events. Owned by the Women’s Club of Olympia, the house is a registered historic building. It’s a local treasure and continues to be deeply connected to Olympia history.
“The Women’s Club of Olympia applied for a $250,000 grant with the Washington State legislature,” explains Sandra Grove, current president. The extensive process had support from Sen. Sam Hunt and Reps. Laurie Dolan and Beth Doglio, and the much-needed funds were secured. The restorations were nearly completed during the pandemic shutdown time. This was fortuitous, because people could not gather in the spaces during those days. Walls have been painted, doors and floors have been refinished and major electrical work was completed. A new furnace was installed. “Old cabinets in the ballroom hid windows that ultimately need to be replaced,” says Sandra. A wall of the ballroom was reconstructed with new, higher-to-the-ceiling windows that let in welcome light. You can watch a video that shows parts of the project. The last bit of funds will be spent on repairs to the balcony over the front door.
Inside the house feels clean and well cared for. All it needs now is you and your party. There is a ballroom and an adjoining parlor downstairs that can hold up to 150 people. The chef’s kitchen provides on-site equipment for cooking and/or catering. The upstairs ballet/dance room features mirrored walls and excellent lighting for a class, retreat or special event. “My step-mother remembers doing ballet classes here,” says Brittney Svach, the reservation coordinator for the Abigail Stuart House and a member of the Women’s Club of Olympia (WCO), which is the oldest women’s club in the Washington. There’s also a second kitchen upstairs. You can rent the whole house or just the parts you need.
“Now is the time to open the house and get people back inside,” says Sandra, who has been part of the entire renovation process. There had been many plans to update and refurbish the building, but the club did not have the funds. To simply keep the house open costs $30,000 year which covers taxes, utilities, and power but not general maintenance or improvements. Old houses always need something.
The WCO focuses on volunteer service. “We do a lot for a group our size,” says Sandra. Members have given time and resources to local agencies such as Safeplace, All Kids Win, Food Bank, Salvation Army, Cielo and the Fisher House at Ft. Lewis. The club gives annual scholarships to three graduating high school seniors with awards of $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000. During 2019, members logged over 4,000 community service hours. That makes a difference.
For those interested in history, the birth of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs is credited to Jane Cunningham Croly, a professional journalist, who in 1868 was denied entry to a dinner at an all-male press club which was honoring Charles Dickens because was a woman. Undaunted, she started a women’s club called Sorosis. On the 21st anniversary of this club, she invited other women’s clubs across the United States to attend a convention in New York City. In 1890, 63 clubs joined together to form the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Abigail Stuart founded the Olympia club in 1883, even before Washington was a state. The club’s purpose is to improve the lives of women and to serve the community. The Olympia Women’s Club is a nonprofit, nondenominational, nonpartisan volunteer service organization.
“I like the history of the old house,” says Sandra. She spent hours scanning 350 pages of
of stories written by women over the past 100 years. At some point they will be available on the website. Women researched and wrote reports that were read at meetings. One piece is called “Are Club Houses Desirable?” It was written by Lurana W. Percival and read before the club on October 20, 1890. She held the vision of the club having its own building. “I sincerely hope that when the Women’s Club of Olympia celebrated its 18th anniversary it may be in a house of its own, free from debt,” she wrote those many years ago. I am sure she would be deeply pleased to see the building today, renovated and ready for meetings and events for the public.
Abigail Stuart House
1002 Washington St. Olympia