In 2021, a marker was rededicated on the Capitol Campus in Olympia, a newly installed version replacing one stolen the previous summer. The plaque, mounted on a boulder, identifies the site of the home of Washington’s first territorial governor and first state governor.

Washington state Capitol Campus marker Stevens-Mansion
Built in 1856, this house was home to Governors Stevens and Ferry as well as other people. Photo courtesy: Washington State Digital Archives, State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990

Washington Territory was created in 1853, carved out of Oregon Territory. Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) was appointed the first territorial governor and came to Olympia, which he picked as the new territory’s provisional capital. His family soon joined him. It is not clear when he purchased the land on the southern outskirts of the young community where he had his house built. Stevens’ property adjoined the land given by Edmund Sylvester for a capitol building when Sylvester platted Olympia from his homestead claim.

The land was cleared of trees, a well dug and a large vegetable garden planted before the house was constructed. The family moved into the building in 1856. Historically, the house has often been referred to as the “Steven’s Mansion.” (Although it was too small to qualify as a mansion, it was given that name since it had been the home of a governor.)

Built in a faintly American Colonial style, the “mansion” was a two-story, wooden-frame house of milled timber set atop a small hill. The main part of the building faced north to 11th Avenue while a gabled wing at the rear of the house was at a right angle to the street. A shed-roofed piazza, or porch, stretched along the front of the house. The home’s wooden siding was likely painted white originally.

The Stevens family only lived in the house for a short time. As his term as governor ended, Stevens was elected the Washington Territorial Delegate to the United States House of Representatives. He and his family moved to Washington, D.C. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Stevens served as a general in the Union army. In 1862 he was killed leading a charge at the Battle of Chantilly.

The house in Olympia was used by a variety of people, including two governors, a judge, a territorial surveyor general and army officers, as well as humbler tenants.

One of the most famous later tenants was first state Governor Elisha Ferry (1825-1895), his wife Sarah, and their family. Ferry was the only person to serve two terms as territorial governor and was later elected the first state governor when Washington entered the Union in 1889.

Statehood brought great changes to the region, and the state government began the long process of planning the current capitol campus. The state purchased the Stevens/Ferry house and surrounding property for $17,000 in 1919 to consolidate its holdings for the campus. While the state continued to rent the house to tenants, it did not maintain the aging building. It began to deteriorate. When a tenant asked the Capitol Committee, which was in charge of the campus project, to fix the furnace, they told him to fix it himself.

However, there was a growing movement to save the historic building. Historical groups and patriotic societies argued for it. These efforts were spearheaded by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Kate Stevens Bates (1852-1941), daughter of Isaac and Margaret Stevens, led these efforts. She had moved back to Olympia with her husband James to manage her late brother Hazard’s Cloverfields farm (now site of Olympia High School).

Washington state Capitol Campus marker Kate-Stevens-Bates
Kate Stevens Bates, daughter of Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens, led efforts to preserve the historic home. Photo courtesy: Washington State Digital Archives, State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990

Through Kate’s advocacy, Olympia’s Sacajawea Chapter of the DAR (of which she was a member) put up a marker along Capitol Way near the house in 1924. Both Governor Ferry’s daughter Eliza Ferry Leary and Kate Stevens Bastes spoke at the dedication, as well as Governor Louis Hart. Many elderly pioneers attended the event.

Despite their best efforts, the future of the house proved insecure. A final decision was delayed until grading work was done, even as the Legislative Building was completed. The Capitol Committee tentatively agreed to the Olmstead’s landscaping plan to relocate the Stevens/Ferry house to near the Sunken Garden, which is northeast of the main Legislative Building. However, many people thought that the building was in too poor shape to move or that it didn’t fit the modern design of the campus. Some people (including some on the Capitol Committee) did not believe that anyone could prove Isaac Stevens ever lived in the house—despite Kate Steven’s testimony that she grew up in the house.

When the mansion’s strongest supporter, State Land Commissioner Clark V. Savidge was away, the rest of the three-member Capitol Committee voted to tear down the building. Demolition began that evening, while the committee was still in session.

This sneaky decision caused a great uproar. The Sacajawea Chapter issued a public statement that they had been promised that the building would be saved and that they had nothing to do with it being torn down.

Washington state Capitol Campus marker Stevens-Ferry-House-Marker
A replacement marker for the Stevens/Ferry house site was rededicated on September 12, 2021 after the original was stolen. Photo credit: Shirley Stirling

No traces of the Stevens/Ferry house remain today and the hill on which it stood was leveled during the grading of the campus. The marker, however, stayed in place until it was stolen in the summer of 2020. Through help from the Department of Enterprise Services, which works closely with community and civic groups for the many markers and memorials on campus, the marker was replaced and the Sacajawea Chapter was able to rededicate it on September 12, 2021. The historical significance of the site continues to be remembered.

Text of the new plaque reads:

Home Site of the First Territorial Governor of Washington Isaac Ingalls Stevens and His Wife, Margaret Hazard Stevens and Territorial and Future First State Governor Elisha P. Ferry and His Wife, Sarah Kellogg Ferry. Erected in 1856 – Razed in 1929. Marker Placed by the Sacajawea Chapter, NSDAR 1924 and 2021.

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