STEILACOOM STREET NAMES
by Lou Dunkin
Very few records exist to document what was in the minds of those who have laid out the plats and named the streets of the Town of Steilacoom. It is therefore your reporter's request that you read the following with this in mind and if you have information that sheds further light on the subject that you will relay it to the Editors of the “Quarterly.”
On January 10, 1851, Lafayette BALCH, in a fit of pique at the little settlement at Tumwater, decided to start his own town so filed a Donation Land Claim, platted it, named it Port Steilacoom and thus began our hometown. This area, consisting of what is now "downtown" was, a few months later, joined on the south by another town named Steilacoom City by its founder, John Chapman.
Rivalry soon surfaced but the two founders decided that there was strength in numbers and so the two townsites were joined. The dividing line became UNION AVENUE and the town was named Town of Steilacoom.
By and large, our streets are named for people prominent in our early history. Captain Charles WILKES surveyed Puget Sound in 1841. Dr. William TOLMIE was active in a large part of our early history. In 1843 he became head of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company and settled at Fort Nisqually until 1859, handling their affairs. J. T. HEATH settled on a tract of land owned by the Company and after his death his farm buildings became part of the newly established Fort Steilacoom.
Judge Thos. CHAMBERS had an adjoining claim that also included a portion of what is now Chambers Creek and built thereon the first gristmill in the area.
Capt. George PICKETT was at Fort Steilacoom and later became famous in battles of the Civil War. Who hasn't heard of the tragic "Pickett's Last Charge" at Gettysburg? Also at Fort Steilacoom were Lt. A. SHEPARD (a figure in the court martial of Wren in 1856) and Capt. Thos. MONTGOMERY who died at 31 and was buried on the Fort grounds.
Sea Capt. Warren GOVE, also an Indian fighter, claimed Ketron island but lost it later in a legal battle. DIGGS was also a sea captain. Hotel-keeper Abner MARTIN filed an early claim in the area. Prominent early families were BYRD, BONNEY and RIGNEY. The JUDSONs, DOWNEYs and LIGHTs came west by way of the treacherous Naches Pass where the wagons and animals had to be lowered over a steep cliff.
William WALLACE, close friend of Lincoln who had appointed him governor of Idaho Territory, filed a claim south of town and later built his home above the present ferry dock. He was a delegate to Congress and at the time of his death in 1870 a judge.
Isaac I. STEVENS was appointed Governor of Washington Territory in 1853. Harrison ROE was an early resident as was ISAAC PINCUS who was elected town treasurer in 1876. Dr. GALLOWAY was here in 1889. The HEWITT family figured prominently in early Tacoma lumbering and real estate development. STARLING was an Indian agent when the area was still Oregon Territory.
MILITARY ROAD led into one of several military roads mandated by Congress in 1852, and which radiated from Fort Steilacoom to provide protection and communication within the region. This particular road was planned to end in Walla Walla. OLYMPIA Street (part of the original wagon road still exists in Farrell Marsh Park as a walking path) was the old wagon road to Olympia. LEWIS LANE was named for nearby Fort Lewis.
Not all of our streets have such interesting stories but they do reflect he gamut of our history. Indian words and names recall our earliest resident, such as QUEETS, the Indian martyr LESCHI, TATOOSH, CHINOOK, STEILACOOM, NISQUALLY, SEQUALISH, TYEE, PUYALLUP-just as names of children and grandchildren reflect contemporary life. NATALIE, JAYNE, KARI, KIM, PAMELA, RANDOLPH, ELEANOR and MYRTLE Streets will go down in history alongside streets named for presidents-WASHINGTON, ADAMS, JEFFERSON, GARFIELD and HARRISON.
Whether JACKSON was named to honor the backwoods president or a John R. Jackson who participated in the Cowlitz Convention that led to the organization of Pierce County in 1851 is not clear. PIERCE could also be named for a president (elected-1852) but it is also possible that it was named to honor a B. Pierce known to be in Steilacoom in 1858, recorded as a charter member of the Steilacoom Library Association. (This gives you some idea of the problems and detective work involved in researching this subject!)
Every town seems to have streets named after trees and Steilacoom is no exception. We have our BEECH, BIRCH, PINE, MAPLE, OAK, WALNUT, MADRONA and CEDAR Streets. Like many other towns in America we have B, C and D alphabet streets and FIRST, SECOND, THIRD, FOURTH, FIFTH, SIXTH and SEVENTH Streets. And like most other towns in America we have our MAIN Street too. It turned out not to be our main street. That honor goes to LAFAYETTE Street which probably got its name from Lafayette Balch in whose plat it is located.
The main street of earliest days was COMMERCIAL which parallels the waterfront and provided access to the many wharves and docks and thence to the sailing ships which were the town's life blood. It is hard nowadays to realize that in those days the street was lined with many businesses and saloons and that we were the biggest and busiest town on the Sound. And we were the county seat to boot!
Some street names are descriptive such as VIEW DRIVE, RAILROAD, VILLAGE GREEN, BRAECREST, SILVER BEACH and SHORT. Still others recall near and faraway places-CONCORD, MANITOBA, CAMBRIDGE, OXFORD, LEXINGTON, CINCINNATI, PACIFIC and SHANNON are these. The reason for naming EUCLID Street eludes your reporter-could some long ago engineer have been honoring the ancient mathemetician as he was platting Palmer's Addition?
Origins of the names of several streets completely eluded your reporter. WORTHINGTON, MARIETTA, BLAINE (could it have been for the slippery James G. Blaine who lost a presidential election to the equally slippery Cleveland?) POWELL, ROWELL, FREDERICK.
And finally there remains the mystery of the origin of FARRELL whose name has recently been given to a road entering Farrell Marsh Park. The park bears his name because of the 15-acre Farrell Marsh, so named on yellowed maps of the region.
Lou Dunkin, "Steilacoom Street Names," Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly.