Mission Nonprofit Spotlight: Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum


Each month, Thurston Community Media (TCMedia)’s Mission Nonprofit connects with local organizations and agencies that are making positive impacts in our communities. This month, Mission Nonprofit host Robert Kam sat down with Greg Griffith and Gerry Alexander to talk about the Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum.

The nonprofit was formed in 2013 when the members of the Olympia Historical Society (founded 2001) and Bigelow House Preservation Association (founded 1992), came together and decided to merge the two organizations.

The Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum (Society and Museum) works to preserve and promote Olympia’s history. The membership-based organization does this by presenting stories about the city’s history in many forms, including events, talks, walking tours and printed materials, to name a few.

“We also maintain collections of historical artifacts and documents, photographs in our Olympia Historical Society collection,” shares Greg. “Our mission is really to educate and convey the history of Olympia and the South Sound region, in fact, to our community.”

The Society and Museum also owns the Bigelow House Museum, which is the oldest private residence still standing in Olympia, and one of the earliest in the entire Pacific Northwest.  “We believe that the house dates from the 1860s, we do not know the exact date,” shares Greg. “We do have photographic documentation of it being there in the 1860s, so we know it was there by the 1860s.”

The nonprofit works on preserving the home as well as the history that surrounds it and the Bigelow family.  According to Greg, four generations of the Bigelow family lived in the house from its construction until the 1990s, when it was sold to the Bigelow House Preservation Association with a life estate by Daniel and Mary Anne Bigelow. “Their children are no longer living their of course, but are still in the community and very much involved and engaged with us in interpreting the preservation of the house.”

“The original Daniel Bigelow was a very important person in the community, as was his spouse,” shares Gerry. “He was a member of the territorial legislature. They were very active in women’s suffrage issues, they favored women having the right to vote. They believe in temperance; they didn’t favor the consumption of alcohol. And in fact, when we acquired the house that was one of the provisions we had to agree to, and we did that happily, that alcohol would never be served in the Bigelow House and we’ve adhered to that ever since.”

A recent project includes a book, “Thurston County: Water, Woods & Prairies,” that was suggested by the Thurston County Historical Commission. The book is an updated history of our local area, including all of Thurston County. “It’s compilation of historical essays on various themes of local history and Gerry of course is one of the authors,” shares Greg.

The Washington Military Department recently transferred ownership of the Olympia Armory on Eastside Street to the City of Olympia. Over the past several months the City has implemented a public engagement process to identify future uses for the building. “There were many people in the community who felt it was important that the armory remain in public hands and so there was an effort initiated that transitioned the building from the National Guard to the City of Olympia for a creative arts campus,” shares Greg. “So part of that transition, we have been working with the National Guard Bureau to document the history before it is transitioned because it has such significance to the community. Not only is it a wonderful architectural gem, but also it has great historical significance to the community.”

You can get involved by becoming a member, which helps support their activities and connects you with other locals who share a love of history and our community at Society and Museum sponsored events and communications. Other ways to get involved including donating, subscribing to newsletters, joining a walking tour, or even consider listing your 50-years-or-older home with the Olympia Heritage Register.

For more information, watch the full video above and visit the Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum.

You can watch Mission Nonprofit on channel 77 on Sundays at 4:30 p.m., Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. You can also watch on TCMedia.org, Video On-Demand or our Roku channel. To learn more about what TCMedia does, visit the Thuston Community Media YouTube channel or the TC Media website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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