By Peggy Barchi
Fort Nisqually Living History Museum invites you to join the fun at The Future of the Past, ALHFAM’s annual meeting and conference June 23-28, 2022! For those not familiar with the history of the site and its influence on Washington State, read on…
Fort Nisqually, the first globally connected settlement on Puget Sound, was established in 1833 by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) as a fur trading outpost. As the fur trade declined, in 1839 Fort Nisqually’s focus shifted to agricultural enterprises. Cattle, sheep and horses along with wheat, barley, oats and peas were raised across the 160,000 acres claimed by the company. However, from its founding, Fort Nisqually found itself in the middle of a territorial boundary dispute between the British and American governments that didn’t settle on the 49th parallel until 1846.
Thus, by the 1850s, Fort Nisqually was a British enterprise firmly rooted within American territory, and its managers dealt with thefts and claim jumping attempts. After years of negotiations, the HBC sold its holdings to the United States government and withdrew from Washington Territory in 1869. Edward Huggins, Fort Nisqually’s last manager, received his American citizenship and filed a claim on the fort site. He and his wife raised their family there and after retiring to Tacoma sold the site to the DuPont Company in the early 1900s.
Fort Nisqually was originally located where DuPont, Washington is now. The museum, located 17 miles north of DuPont in Point Defiance Park, was reconstructed during the Great Depression. Two original structures, the Factor’s House and Granary, both National Historic Landmarks, were moved from DuPont to the park at that time. Several buildings were reconstructed by Works Progress Administration (WPA) and local work relief programs. In the decades since, more buildings have been added.
The museum portrays life post-1855 because of those original buildings. Built in the post-on-sill HBC construction style, the 1850 Granary is the older building. However, the museum’s f interpretive focus concentrates on 1855, and the Factor’s House, built in that year to house the growing family of the fort’s long-time manager, Dr. William Fraser Tolmie. Its construction included milled lumber, a wrap-around verandah and elegant wallpaper inside.
Conference attendees will learn more about Dr. Tolmie, his family and others who worked at the fort during their visit. The young doctor was first stationed at the newly- established Fort Nisqually in 1833, because of his medical skills. After he was transferred in late 1833, Tolmie returned to Fort Nisqually in the early 1840s as its Chief Trader and was later promoted to Chief Factor in 1855.
Outside the fort’s palisades, small native meadows, a farm field and orchard recreate a tiny bit of its original land holdings. This includes apple trees grafted during the early 2000s with scions from the original site’s apple trees.
Fort Nisqually holds a unique spot in the region’s history as the first non-native, global business in the area. The fort connected numerous cultures within its workforce. Brought together, these workers and their families created a multi-cultural community that revolved around Fort Nisqually. Coming full circle, the museum’s programming strives to represent these cultures, including collaboration with local Native American tribes to present all sides of its history and how it connects to the lives of all 21st-century visitors.
Point Defiance Park, managed by the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma, juts into Puget Sound’s Tacoma Narrows strait. The park also includes beachfront walks, forested trails, rose gardens, a 1914 pagoda-style inter-urban depot and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. Scenic views within the park look south towards the towering Tacoma Narrows Bridge that leads to the Olympic Peninsula. The structurally-sound modern bridge rises above the site of the famed 1940 Galloping Gertie bridge collapse.
But why attend the 2022 annual meeting and conference? First off, the beauty and variety of opportunities in the Pacific Northwest are breathtaking! There are mountains, Puget Sound, rainforests and more. Within a couple hours’ drive, there is the Pacific Ocean, volcanic mountains including Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens, geological wonders in the eastern Washington deserts, orchards, wineries, and coffee stands. And there is the magnificent Columbia River, made famous by those pesky American explorers, Lewis & Clark.
Beyond Washington State’s beauty, the conference will provide attendees the opportunity to meet, socialize, learn, and perhaps even commiserate with practitioners of living history from around the world. Workshops and field trips will be mixed in with favorites from past ALHFAM gatherings such as the plowing contest, the Smoked, Salted & Pickled reception, dinners, auction, vendors and more!
With this, you are invited to sign on, much as the long-ago engagés of the Hudson’s Bay Company did, to join Fort Nisqually Living History Museum for the 2022 ALHFAM Annual Meeting and Conference and venture into The Future of the Past in the City of Destiny: Tacoma, Washington.
About the author
Peggy Barchi was the Event/Volunteer Coordinator at Fort Nisqually Living History Museum from 2002-2012 and past editor of Occurrences – The Journal of Northwest History During the Fur Trade. She continues to volunteer with fort programs. A longtime ALHFAM member, she helped organize several Western Region conferences and is currently the Education Coordinator at the Northwest Railway Museum.