History with Humor in Don Trosper’s Book, ‘The Tumwater We Never Knew’

The-Tumwater-We-Never-Knew-Don-Trosper Reserve-Street-Bridge
Readers will reflect on bygone days before Interstate 5 ran through Tumwater. At Reserve Street, the crossing was a wooden wagon bridge that crossed the Deschutes in the 1880s. Photo courtesy: Henderson House Museum

History mixes with humor in Don Trosper’s new book “The Tumwater We Never Knew.” The book is the creation of Tumwater’s local historian and is a fundraising opportunity for the Olympia Tumwater Foundation. The book provides both entertainment and funding for continuing local history programs that highlight the area’s significance in Pacific Northwest history overall. Tumwater was one of the many end points for those traveling out west on the Oregon Trail, and its history is dynamic.

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Don Trosper, author and public history manager of the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, enjoys including humor with history. Photo courtesy: Olympia Tumwater Foundation

“The Tumwater We Never Knew” is a book that holds many old stories. It is a collection of selected, short anecdotes, first-hand experiences and tales that may seem unbelievable except that they are true. Local lore, such as the goop from Eagans, a case of stolen city records and a loose bear at the park will bring back memories for some and result in a dropped jaw for others. Readers will reflect on bygone days before Interstate 5 ran through Tumwater, take a look at the early Boston Street Bridge and see a picture of when elk grazed alongside the Deschutes River. A chapter covers the indoor softball games at the Tumwater Club and the humorous facts about kegs of beer and donkeys in the accompanying newspaper excerpt. A key part of the town’s local history is with the Olympia Brewing Company, and an interview with Peter “Buzzie” Schmidt is included, as well as a question and answer quiz about the popular business. The list of entertaining topics is long, and the table of contents reads like a menu where everything looks good.

“It is my vision that this collection of 40 short stories from Tumwater’s heritage will help give fresh inspiration and appreciation for this unique community,” shares Don Trosper, author and public history manager of the Olympia Tumwater Foundation in his book’s preface. “History is about people. That’s why this book includes not only true stories, but also legends and folklore about the special people of our past. Those stories are an important factor in the culture of a community. My intent is to reveal when the stories may not be completely true or verified. I want to touch emotions as well as to inform and educate. I look forward to hearing reader responses such as, ‘I didn’t know that’ or ‘That reminds me of something I haven’t thought about for a long time.’”

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One chapter retells of an incident involving a streetcar driver, a bear on the loose and some nervous bystanders. Photo courtesy: Henderson House Museum

Intriguing pictures and graphics accompany the stories. They range from some of the earliest photographs of people and places to the relatively current. The Brewmaster’s House, local family collections and the Brewery Collection at the Schmidt House are a few of the contributors. Historical images and sketches in the book also come from the Olympia Tumwater Foundation’s own collection. Photos of the small neighborhood grocery and the drug store reveal a different time and will have readers peering close to see the faces of the people and the older model cars parked out front. Old advertisements and product labels will draw attention as well. A rare 1921 photograph inside a barber shop gives readers a little insight into what everyday life was like decades ago, or perhaps more than a century ago in a photo of the Harper School in Bush Prairie. For readers who have spent time walking along the Deschutes Falls trail, old photographs of the buildings that previously stood alongside the water will be interesting as well as those images that show the river area before major developments.

One important feature of the foundation’s book is that is good fun. Stories are likely to motivate readers to frequently point out anecdotes and images to others. One brief tale included in the book, serving as a chapter epigraph about Old Highway 99, is about a few elderly women who were stopped by a highway patrolman for driving too slowly. “The driver said, ‘But officer, all the signs read 25.’ The patrolman politely replied, ‘Madam, that’s the state highway number, not the speed limit.’ The driver said, ‘Oh my! That explains why the others were screaming earlier when we were driving on Old Highway 99!’” Purposely including humor in the retelling of history makes it fun to learn. “I have been working to change that perception of dryness through live talks, tours, on-line history video features, and print articles in various forms,” explains Trosper’s preface.

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‘The Tumwater We Never Knew’ provides both entertainment and funding for the Olympia Tumwater Foundation’s history programs that highlight the area’s significance, interesting events and curious facts.
Photo courtesy: Olympia Tumwater Foundation

In addition to good old-fashioned storytelling and entertainment, the book is primarily raising dollars for the foundation’s Heritage Builders program. “The Heritage Builders program of the Olympia Tumwater Foundation has been showing people that local history is far from dull or boring,” says Trosper in the preface. “It is being brought to life.” The goal is to keep Tumwater visible to people and bring tourists to visit.

The Olympia Tumwater Foundation is a nonprofit, 501(c)3 charitable organization. Through a partnership with the city of Tumwater, it  provides “Talking Over Old Times” on YouTube, shares weekly Facebook postings about Tumwater history. The foundation also hosts events, provides scholarships and leads public history tours. One of their first projects was the Tibili fountain at the state capitol.

A copy of “The Tumwater We Never Knew” can be reserved for pick up by calling or emailing the Schmidt House at 360.786.8117 and history@olytumfoundation.org.

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