It should be no surprise that I live in the small community of Steilacoom. Although I’ve always enjoyed travel many of my photographs are from right here at home. The advantage of exploring your local area with a camera are many. One, it forces you to look at things not with familiarity but for lines, compisitons, texture etc. and secondly, by photographing the familiar you have a chance to wait for the ‘just perfect’ light. How many times have I paddled by this old BNSF railroad maintence shed? Too many to count!
Captain Lafayette Balch, a Maine sea captain, founded Steilacoom in January, 1851. Originally he called it “Port Steilacoom.” A few months afterwards John B. Chapman took a donation claim to the west, naming his town “Steilacoom City.” In 1854 the new territorial legislature incorporated “Steilacoom” combining the two rival towns into one. They were joined by Union Avenue.
Steilacoom was known as the “town of firsts:” first protestant church north of the Columbia River, first school, first incorporated town, first post office, first brewery, first Pierce County courthouse and jail, and first incorporated library. But as time passed, Tacoma took over Steilacoom’s place. The county seat moved to Tacoma when it became the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Many of the businesses along Commercial Street moved to the bigger town and the population dwindled.
The close relationship between railroad expansion and the genera development and prosperity of the country is nowhere brought more distinctly into relief than in connection with the construction of the Pacific railroads. – John Moody
With the introduction of an electric railroad running between Steilacoom and Tacoma in 1891 Steilacoom became known as a tourist destination. Prominent Tacoma businessman built summer cottages looking out to the water and commuted back and forth while others came to enjoy the view and stay a day or two.
In 1914 the town was torn from the beach as the Northern Pacific Railroad was built along the waterfront and the cottages were either torn down or moved. With the advent of the car, WWI, and the Great Depression, Steilacoom again became a sleepy town. Awakening in the 1940s with the proximity to an expanding Fort Lewis and McNeil Island Penitentiary, houses were constructed to accommodate the growing population