Timeline

Cedar trees were abundant; planks were used for canoes and longhouses and bark for clothing. Lakes and streams contained reeds and grasses that could be woven into mats and baskets, while the prairie offered plenty of food. The Steilacoom Tribe truely enjoyed the best of the Puget Sound.

1792
Peter Puget of Captain George Vancouver's crew explored and mapped Puget Sound and met Native Americans offshore from Steilacoom.

1800
Horses were brought to the area and were rapidly integrated into the culture of the Steilacoom and Nisqually tribes.

1824
The Hudson’s Bay Company expedition visited Steilacoom village.

1832
A Hudson’s Bay Company trading post was established in Steilacoom territory after learning that fur trade had already decimated the beaver population on the Nisqually River.

1833
Archibald McDonald of the Hudson's Bay Company founded Fort Nisqually at Dupont.

1841
Lt. Charles Wilkes explored the Puget Sound area for the U.S. government. His headquarters were near Fort Nisqually. He and his men had the first Fourth of July celebration in the Northwest. Wilkes named places for crew members.

1844
Joseph Heath, with workers from the tribe, farmed on the hill above Chambers Creek, as the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, a subsidiary of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

1849
American troops established Fort Steilacoom at the Heath Farm, renting it from the Hudson’s Bay Company.

1851
Captain Lafayette Balch founded Port Steilacoom, building a store and a wharf from lumber he had brought around the Horn from his native state of Maine, to establish trade between San Francisco and the new town.

In June, John B. Chapman founded Steilacoom City adjacent to Balch’s town. American and British settlers began to build houses in town and to farm in the outlying areas.

1852
When Pierce County was organized in December of 1852, Steilacoom was selected as the County Seat.

The first post office in Washington Territory was established at Steilacoom.

1853
The Methodist Episcopal Church, first Protestant church north of the Columbia River, was organized. The first school session was held.

The first immigrant wagon train north of the Columbia River crossed the Cascades. A large number of the members of this wagon train settled in or near Steilacoom.

1854
Port Steilacoom and Steilacoom City were merged on April 22, by an act of the Territorial Legislature, creating Steilacoom City. The division between the two original towns is clearly seen in the street grid shift to either side of Union Avenue. Steilacoom became the first town incorporated in Washington Territory by the Territorial Legislature.

The Treaty of Medicine Creek was signed between the U.S. Government and the Nisqually, Puyallup, Steilacoom, Squaxin, and other smaller tribes.

1855
The Territorial War began in response to the proposed Reservation and other treaty issues. Some Steilacoom tribal members joined in the fighting, others continued to live near Fort Steilacoom, and a few continued to work for the Puget Sound Agricultural Company.

1855-56
The Indian Wars disrupted commerce and caused settlers to move into Steilacoom and Fort Steilacoom for refuge.

1856
The Fox Island council marked the end of the territorial war on Puget Sound. Steilacoom leader Sam Young requested a reservation along Steilacoom Creek. Many Steilacoom decided to remain in their traditional territory after his request was not answered.

1858
Steilacoom’s port was the busiest on Puget Sound, with travelers and ships in the harbor carrying lumber, barrel hoops and goods from San Francisco in exchange for cut timber from the surrounding forests. The Fraser Gold Rush brought miners north. There were about 40 businesses, including 7 saloons, 4 hotels, blacksmith shops, a butcher shop, 4 mercantile establishments, a newspaper office, and professional people’ 4 lawyers and 3 doctors.

1858-63
Steilacoom became the location of the first Territorial Court; the first Protestant church, and the first school, public library, brewery and jail in Washington Territory.

1859-62
The Town of Steilacoom had approximately 400 residents; about 300 were Native Americans.

1863
The Sisters of Providence established a school and the Immaculate Conception Mission was moved from Fort Steilacoom to Steilacoom town.

1873
The Northern Pacific Railroad decided to locate its terminus on Commencement Bay, ending Steilacoom's hopes for becoming a major city.

1875
McNeil Island Penitentiary, a federal prison, was opened.

1878
A partial census of Steilacoom people indicates Sam Young and other leaders still living off-reservation.

1880
The County Seat was moved to the new town of Tacoma and key businesses quickly followed.

1883
The Congregationalists arrived, establishing the Steilacoom Academy and Oberlin Congregational Church.

Steilacoom tribe children were forced to attend and live at the Agency School at Puyallup.

1888
Steilacoom had a population of 250, two churches, a brewery, a water-power flouring mill, a district school, and an Olympia-Tacoma steamer which stopped six days a week. Palmer’s Addition and Diggs Addition were added to the town as optimism arose anticipating statehood for Washington.

1889
Washington State was established. The size of the town was increased with Palmer's Addition and Black's Addition.

1891
The Tacoma & Steilacoom Railroad, a narrow gauge electric streetcar line, began running and bringing tourists to town for beachfront vacations as many small cottages were built. The E.R. Rogers mansion was constructed, only to be lost during the “Panic of ‘93”. It then became a well-known boarding house.

A new school was built up on the hill between Sequalish and Nisqually, where Pioneer Middle School now stands.

1895
Pharmacist W.L. Bair built the first store on Lafayette Street. The old brewery was turned into the Iron Springs Hotel, another popular place for the tourist, with its heated saltwater natatorium.

1910
Steilacoom had a tennis club, a new Congregational Church, and a population of 430.

The Northern Pacific Railroad purchased the property along the waterfront and began to build its main line between California and Washington State, thus ending Steilacoom’s role as a vacation destination. Beachfront vacation buildings were either torn down or moved up into town, some of those moved are still in use today.

1917
Nearby Camp Lewis was developed as the United States went to war.

1919
The Cascade Paper Company began operation of its mill at the mouth of Chamber's Creek

1920s
Several small farmhouses were built around town, some with dairies. A few homes were architect designed, and many were owner-built, one for only fifty dollars. Chicken coops, garages, and barns were converted into living spaces.

1923
The Steilacoom Chamber of Commerce was formed to promote business and establish a tourist trade.

1929
The Steilacoom - DuPont Road was built with ceremonies conducted at both towns accompanied with a thirty piece band from Fort Lewis

1930
The new Steilacoom Town Hall was built in a neo-classic style.

1941
The first citizen-organized Civil Defense system in the region was established at Steilacoom after the declaration of US entry into World War II.

1951-55
Steilacoom celebrated four centennials commemorating its many firsts in the Territory

1960s
Cherrydale housing development, adjacent to Palmer’s Addition, made a major impact on the town. Cherrydale Elementary School, built to accommodate the growth, was the first new addition to Steilacoom schools since Pioneer School was rebuilt in 1917

1970
Steilacoom Historical Museum Association was established and opened a Museum in the lower level of Town Hall.

1973
The Bair Drug & Hardware property was donated to Steilacoom Historical Museum Association as a living museum.

The Nathaniel Orr Home was acquired by the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association.

The Steilacoom Historic District was established by local ordinance and was also placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

1980
The Steilacoom Community Center was built.

1981
Dupont and Anderson Island School Districts joined Steilacoom Historic School District #1, and Steilacoom High School was built.

1982
Steilacoom Tribe began petitioning the US Federal government for recognition.

1988
The Steilacoom Tribe opened the Steilacoom Tribal Center and Museum in the former Oberlin Church building (built 1910).


Steilacoom has grown and changed over the years. It did not become the large center of government and commerce that Balch and others envisioned, but participated in major events of the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries. Today’s residents enjoy historic homes with views of Puget Sound and the mountains and share a unique sense of community in Washington’s first town.